Washington County Redistribution Commissioners confident to meet deadline but face opposition over South Seattle plans

With less than a week left before the deadline to redraw the boundaries of the Washington congressional and legislative districts maps, members of the state’s bipartisan Constituency Redistribution Commission say they are confident they can come to an agreement.

But stumbling blocks remain. A score of those who testified this week said they were unhappy with aspects of the proposals that have been released so far, including plans for South Seattle, which critics say will unfairly divide communities of color.

Meanwhile, a potential conflict is brewing over the Latin American legislature in central Washington, with Republicans and Democrats at odds over federal voting rights requirements.

At least three of the four voting commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans, all nominated by legislature leaders – are due to agree to the new cards by November 15.

If they fail, the task will fall to the state Supreme Court. This has not happened since the state agreed to hand over authority to redistribute districts to a bipartisan commission after the 1990 census.

At a meeting on Monday, the commissioners said they expect this series of successful compromises to continue.

“We regularly have substantive discussions on both the Congressional Map and the Legislative Map,” said Paul Graves, a former State Legislator and Republican Commissioner, during a video-led meeting.

“We’re at a tipping point,” said April Sims, head of the state labor council and Democratic commissioner. “I remain optimistic that we will negotiate our final maps and that the commission will have something to adopt.”

Unlike Washington, many states continue to leave the redistribution of constituencies entirely in the hands of the political party that controls their legislature, leading to overt power play and inevitable lawsuits from the minority party. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline blog, as of mid-September, there were more than 49 lawsuits for redistributing counties in at least 22 states.

The stakes are high on Washington’s parish redeployment talks as new maps for 10 US counties and 49 legislative districts will be in effect over the next decade, starting in the mid-term of 2022.

State law requires districts to be roughly equal in size and avoid group discrimination or fraudulent party considerations. They should also avoid dividing cities and other political divisions and communities of interest as much as possible.

Republican and Democratic commissioners released sets of dueling cards in September showing how they are balancing legal demands and striving to benefit their party in the upcoming elections.

As they continue their final negotiations, commissioners are under pressure from critics of their publicly announced proposals.

Some progressive activists and local politicians are opposed to maps that will separate southern Seattle, such as Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley, from southern King County cities, including Renton, Tookville, and SeaTuck. They are all part of the current 9th constituency, created 10 years ago as the state’s first constituency with a majority of the population of color.

The new proposed maps will change the 9th arrondissement to varying degrees, with proposals from Sims and Republican Commissioner and former State Senator Joe Fein, uniting South Seattle with the rest of the city in the 7th Congressional District. Graves’ plan will unite most of South Seattle with the Eastside towns, including Issaqua and Sammamish.

At a commission meeting on Monday, some urged the group to keep southern Seattle with southern King County cities and focus on areas, including Burien, to create a 60% colored area.

“Please do not weaken the electoral power of these communities of color,” said King County Councilor Gyrmay Zahilai, who joined Seattle City Councilor Tammy Morales and others in asking that South Seattle remain in the Southern County Cities District rather than anything. be in a group with whiter and richer cities and areas.

South Seattle has “very different priorities than the rest of Seattle,” said Andrew Hong, Washington state director of redefining the boundaries of justice, a coalition of progressive groups lobbying for a more diverse map of the 9th arrondissement.

In an interview, Hong called all of the initial maps “inadequate” and said that the Democratic Commissioners give some priority to protecting actors such as Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, a longtime 9th District Congressman.

“To me, this whole mess shows that bipartisanship is not the same as nonpartisanism,” said Aram Falsafi, a resident of Seattle’s Columbia City area, criticizing commissioners from both political parties during a public meeting on Monday. “If the South Seattle people fail in this process, some of us will work very hard … to make sure that the next redistribution commission is truly non-partisan and free from political hacking.”

Another subject of controversy has arisen over whether to create a legislative district in Central Washington with a voting age population of the majority of Hispanics.

Democratic Commissioners Sims and Brady Pineiro Walkinshaw, a former state deputy proposed restructuring the 14th Legislative District, centered in the Yakima area, including the Yakama People’s Reservation.

They came up with their proposals after Matt Barreto commissioned Matt Barreto, professor of political science and co-director of the School of Voting Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, to conduct the analysis. His analysis showed that the initial cards proposed by all four commissioners would violate the federal Voting Rights Act, potentially opening the state to lawsuits and court intervention.

According to Barreto’s analysis, the commission should include a majority of the Latin American legislature based on the population of voting age, so that Latin American voters can elect candidates of their choice. His analysis notes that the Voting Rights Act prohibits political cards that use racial forgery to “hack” minority electoral blocs and limit their political influence.

Republicans backed down, ordering their own legal analysis, saying the Democrats’ proposals would create oddly shaped non-compact neighborhoods in violation of the law – and would amount to guerrilla fraud that would cause its own legal problems.

Noting that the Democratic Party dominates the legislature and the governor’s office, a Republican legal memo, written by lawyers at law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, says that Democratic cards will further strengthen the power of the majority party and “deprive the minority party of meaningful opportunities to compete. in the political process in Washington state … “

Despite these and other disagreements, non-partisan and non-voting commission chairman Sara Augustin urged commissioners to fulfill their mandate and reach an agreement – in part to honor the thousands of members of the public who influenced the process.

“We are indebted to them to make sure that the time and effort put into producing the final maps,” she said.