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Redistricting: The people’s version

By December 15, 2021January 5th, 2022Blog


A bombshell memo from a redistricting commissioner staffer lays out in plain language what we’ve been saying all along: this wasn’t a nonpartisan process where community testimony was taken seriously — it was hyper-partisan warfare between the parties where all they cared about was their partisan advantage.

That’s not surprising when you consider that 3 of the 4 commissioners were former legislators and 5 of the 7 maps they drew violated the voting rights of communities of color in favor of advantaging legislative incumbents and their party’s position.

The other week, the Washington State Redistricting Commission failed to uphold their constitutional responsibility to develop new maps by deadline, kicking the process to the state Supreme Court. In addition, they abdicated their moral responsibility by failing to uphold standards of transparent and open government while conducting eleventh-hour negotiations off camera and fabricating a final vote. To add insult to injury, they moved forward with (and doubled down in their defense of) recommendations that hold no legal authority—as if nothing at all happened. 

And THEN, the Court said “eh, good enough”, and accepted the Commission’s late, secretive, and (probably) illegal final proposal.

What do we take from this mess?

  1. The process will never save us. Appointed republicans acted in bad faith from the jump. With their maps, they claimed false victories in diversity and representation, yet when we called them on it, they refused to talk to us again. Democrats looked out for incumbents. And when the going got tough, everyone went on mute and off camera. Even the best redistricting process (and the jury’s still out on what that is) will need other crucial democracy reforms to actually move the needle on building political will for our communities.
  2. The commission’s maps likely violate our federal and state Voting Rights Acts (VRAs). At issue here is that the commission’s maps are likely illegitimate and illegal. Highly dense Latino areas in the Yakima Valley and Mt. Vernon as well as Black and Asian communities in Auburn were cracked and split in ways that probably don’t pass legal muster. The idea behind these musterless maps: Republicans want to look like they’re complying with the VRA while maintaining their regional partisan advantages; Democrats want bigger margins in the legislature. And yet, the Supreme Court decided to let the submitted map pass, based only on whether it met its deadline.
  3. Give us what the community wants. Dozens of our community members who showed up to testify have been clear, cogent, and consistent in our demands for maps that keep us together. In Central and Western Washington, we want a multi-racial coalition district that will actually elect progressive leaders of color to address the actual shared interests of the region.
  4. Silver Linings Skywaybook (2021). The one silver lining to all this is that the commission seemed to listen to us (we gave them plenty of opportunities) when it came to the 9th Congressional District. They consolidated working class communities of color in South King County from Skyway to Burien (even as they kept parts of Bellevue and Mercer Island in the mix so that Congressman Adam Smith could still technically reside in the district).

What’s next 

The Supreme Court punted map-making decisions back to the Commission rather than making one, as law would suggest. That said, the Justices stated that they were ruling only on whether the Commission met the deadline, not on the content of the submitted maps themselves. So Redistricting Justice for Washington (RJW) as well as organizations and community leaders will consult with legal counsel for now, deliberating on if and when we should sue for violating the VRA and public meeting laws.

Otherwise, counties are still going over their own maps, submissions, and deadlines, too. Be sure to tune in on those as well!

What do you think? Have any questions? Tweet us your thoughts @wacommalliance. Keep up with the action and opportunities to get involved with our legislative newsletter The Tally.