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Washington's redistricting commission has until Monday to decide on new legislative, congressional district boundaries

By Alec Regimbal, SeattlePI

The current boundaries of the state's 49 legislative districts. 

The current boundaries of the state's 49 legislative districts. 

Wa Redistricting Commission

The congressional and legislative districts that encompass King County will look different after Monday, which is the deadline for the state’s bipartisan redistricting committee to agree on new boundary lines for each of the 10 congressional districts and 49 legislative districts in Washington.

The redistricting process is done every 10 years to reflect changes in population, which are recorded by the decennial census. Unlike many other states, where new district lines are drawn by the political party in power, Washington’s district lines are drawn by bipartisan commission made up of four voting members.

At a meeting held via video earlier this week, the commissioners said they were confident they’d reach an agreement by Monday.

“I still feel optimistic about our prospects for achieving a deal by our deadline of next week,” said Commissioner Paul Graves. “We are having regular substantive discussions on both the congressional and the legislative maps.”

If at least three of the four members can’t reach an agreement by Monday, the state Supreme Court will draw the new boundary lines. That has not happened in the 30 years since the state created its bipartisan redistricting commission.

The members — two Democrats and two Republicans — are appointed by state caucus leaders from both parties. This year’s Democratic appointees are April Sims and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw. The Republican appointees are Graves and Joe Fain.

Voters in each state legislative district elect two members of the state House of Representatives and one member of the state Senate. District lines are drawn according to population, and each district is supposed to include roughly the same amount of people.

If you look at a map of the state’s current legislative districts, you’ll notice that some are tiny while others are huge. For example, the state’s 46th district is about 25 square miles in size, while the state’s 12th district is about 8,600 square miles in size. However, according to 2010 census numbers, around 150,000 people live in both.

These population disparities are why 17 legislative districts completely or partially fall within King County, the most populous county in the state.

Whichever boundaries the commissioners agree on could have big ramifications for the area’s elected state leaders, most of whom are up for reelection next year. Incumbents from the same party could end up in the same district and may have to move or step down to avoid running against one another.

Each commissioner has released a draft map which shows their preference for how the new state legislative district lines should be drawn. They can be viewed here.

The commission is also responsible for redrawing the lines of the state’s congressional districts, in which voters elect one person to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each commissioner has also released a draft map which shows their preferences for the new congressional district lines. They can be viewed here.

Three of those maps have faced criticism by local politicians and progressive activists, primarily for the way they chop up the 9th Congressional District, which in 2011 became the state’s first congressional district where people of color made up a majority.   

Right now, parts of south Seattle — neighborhoods such as Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley — are in the 9th District along with South King County cities such as Renton and SeaTac. But maps by Sims and Fain would unite South Seattle with the rest of the city, which is in the 7th Congressional District. Graves’ map would unite most of South Seattle with Eastside cities like Sammamish and Issaquah, which are currently in the 8th Congressional District.

Under state law, the new boundary lines cannot leave any minority group at a disadvantage and cannot be drawn to give one political party an advantage over another. They’re also supposed to avoid splitting up cities, counties, political subdivisions and “communities of interest” to the extent possible.

The public has the option to comment on the proposed maps until Monday. They also have the option to draw their own maps. Instructions for how to do each can be found on the commission’s website.


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Alec Regimbal is a politics reporter at SFGATE. He graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A Washington State native, Alec previously wrote for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He also spent two years as a political aide in the Washington State Legislature.