REDISTRICTING PANEL DID JOB WITH JUSTA BIT UNDONE

Spokesman-Review, The (Spokane, WA) - Thursday, January 5, 2012
Author: Spokane: THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW

The Washington Redistricting Commission completed its work with barely two hours to spare Sunday, when its four voting members finally signed off on new congressional and legislative district maps. Had they not completed their work by midnight, the task of redrawing boundaries to reflect the results of the 2010 census would have been tossed to the Washington Supreme Court. 

Nobody wanted that, probably least of all the current cast of commissioners. They are the third bunch since 1990 entrusted with crafting as nonpartisan a plan as four partisans can negotiate and approve with at least three votes. This was an especially difficult job because they had to configure 10 congressional districts, not the nine that previous commissioners dealt with. There was no way to do that without creating a district that, for the first time, straddled the Cascade Mountains and a potentially volatile mix of West Side liberals and East Side conservatives. 

But the new 8th District should fit incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Reichert just fine. The plan trims away some of the district's Democrat-leaning precincts and adds Chelan and Kittitas county conservatives, which should give the two-term Republican a safer seat. The other incumbents alsoshould be in safe districts for another decade. 

Remarkably, both the Democratic and Republican members feel they have devised a plan that will bring the additional congressional seat into their party's fold. Somebody is going to wake up Nov. 7 and find out they didn't count so well. 

The same may hold true for the new 6th Legislative District, which will encompass the West Plains in Spokane County. The new boundaries make a lot of sense given the annexation of a sizable chunk of that territory to the city of Spokane. 

Less sensible is the burden the 11th-hour tinkering imposed on county auditors who worked closely with the commission to assure boundary lines made geographic and administrative sense. Congressional or legislative lines, or both, divide 20 of 39 Washington counties, in a few cases isolating precincts with just one or two voters. In Western Washington, where the commissioners finished their work two weeks ago, auditors had time to clean up the mess. Not so in Eastern Washington, where auditors were stuck trying to keep up with commission changes and refinements through New Year's Day. 

Now, only the Legislature can make those technical changes. Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she and her colleagues in other counties are concerned that lawmakers dealing with harsh budget cuts may not have the patience to make all the fixes, which must be done one by one. The auditors may have to administer the elections as best they can with what the commission dealt them. 

That aside, the commission seems to have done what the citizens of Washington wanted it to do when they took redistricting out of legislator hands. They produced a plan fair to everyone, including minorities who will constitute a majority of votes in some districts. The process is well worth repeating in 2021.

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