OLYMPIA — The Washington State Redistricting Commission announced Tuesday morning that it was unable to adopt a new plan for the state’s 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts by the Nov. 15 deadline, punting jurisdiction over the once-a-decade matter to the state Supreme Court.
It’s the first time since the bipartisan commission was formed — ahead of the 1991 redistricting cycle — that the commissioners were unable to come to an agreement on a plan for redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts.
“Last night, after substantial work marked by mutual respect and dedication to the important task, the four voting commissioners on the state redistricting commission were unable to adopt a districting plan by the midnight deadline,” the commission said in a Nov. 16 statement.
The four voting commissioners — two were appointed by Democrats in the state Legislature, and two by Republicans — worked at a frenzied pace up until Monday night’s 11:59 p.m. deadline, and even appeared to have adopted both a congressional and legislative redistricting plan at the last possible minute. But questions immediately arose over whether the plans the commissioners voted to approve actually existed, and whether the process was wholly completed ahead of the deadline.
“The late release of the 2020 census data combined with technical challenges hampered the commission’s work considerably,” the commission said. Some technical challenges were on display at last night’s all-virtual meeting.
The commission’s decision to largely negotiate out of public view on Monday night was also panned by open-meeting advocates in the state. Mike Fancher, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, alleged to the Seattle Times that the commissioners violated the state’s Open Public Meeting Act, which usually requires public commissions to debate and make decisions in public.
“It clearly seems as is if this was a deliberate attempt to essentially hide the discussions from the public,” Fancher told the Times, adding that even if the commission somehow managed to obey the letter of the law, “it was definitely a violation of the spirit of the law.”
The 2021 redistricting process was also the first time that the deadline had been moved up from Jan. 1 of the following year to mid-November, after Washington voters overwhelmingly voted to move up the deadline in 2016. Supporters of moving up the deadline, including virtually every member of the state Legislature, said the additional six weeks of time would give county officials more time to implement new boundaries before spring elections the following year.
Now, the state’s redistricting authority belongs to the state Supreme Court, which has until April 30 of next year to approve new congressional and legislative maps. It’s the first time the nine-member judicial body has been put in charge of drawing new maps in Washington.
“The commissioners have every faith that the Supreme Court will draw maps that are fair and worthy of the people of Washington,” the commission said.