Redistricting in Washington: Part 1

by Krist Novoselić

January 4, 2021

Happy 2021 to everyone. This new year will offer us a reactivated Washington Redistricting Commission. These are four people, including a non-voting independent, who are basically granted the role of “Political Master of the Universe”. This is through the awesome power of choosing who the winners and losers are in an election — before even a single ballot is cast!

There is an article in today’s Seattle Times by Jim Brunner — inaugurating what promises to be a good serial for 2021 about the powerful commission. Brunner states, “The redistricting process inevitably produces intrigue, with politicians chiming in publicly or secretly to request shifts in their districts to fend off electoral challenges.” As we know, the term fending off also means protecting. So there you have it — political elites protecting themselves by way of the Masters of the Universe.

Indeed, as Brunner states, redistricting is monitored by “self-interested lawmakers, partisan operatives, journalists and other political geeks.” I admit to being a specific geek on this subject. I paid a lot of attention to the 2011 process; and promise no less for this year.

2021 will reveal good things about Washington policy; including our open meetings and transparency rules. This will help shine a light on the redistricting commission — necessary when such awesome power is granted to a single group.

The author also mentions identity politics interest groups who want to bend the district lines towards them. No surprise as every group -if not everyone in the political system- seeks to maximize their power. We also have the Washington Voting Rights Act looming over this round of districting. This could mean the threat of a lawsuit over any map produced by the commission. Brunner is right, this year promises intrigue to election system geeks.

The article provides some graphics showing population density changes since the last census. Puget Sound cities, especially Seattle, have become, according to the graphic “overpopulated”, while rural areas are now “underpopulated. We should see some very compact geographic districts on one hand, and some sprawling rural districts on the other. The Commission must consider criteria such as; compactness, competitiveness, communities of interest and keeping existing jurisdictions together, among others. Should be interesting to see how these crammed and sprawled populations will figure into all this.

Brunner quotes constitutional law expert Hugh Spitzer who says a commission staffed by true experts -and not political appointees / proxies- would produce “fairly drawn maps that yield results that are closest to a democratic result”.

I disagree! Maps drawn by technicians or even algorithms could be closer than what political apointees conconct. However, the "expert" results would not be closest. The closest democratic result would be produced by actual voters allowed to decide who best represents them.

This is done through proportional representation. As a matter of fact, Washington already has multi-member districts for electing State House members. A voting system like the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) would produce a bipartisan delegation to Olympia from most districts in the state. The ballot would be virtually indistinguishable from what we currently have. Voters would get one potent vote to elect both House seats; as the top-two vote getters in every House race would be elected. It’s identical to how our current primary elections work in Washington.

There are other ways to implement proportional representation. SNTV is a simple example considering the current limited knowledge of proportional representation in the United States. I will leave it to you to check this concept out. The leading group in our country with this issue is FairVote.

Stay tuned to this site for more of my perspectives on 2021 redistricting

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