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Redistricting in Montana

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Note: Redistricting takes place every ten years after completion of the United States Census. The information here pertains to the 2010 redistricting process.

Redistricting in Montana
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General information
Partisan control:
Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission
30 days after legislature receives plan in 2013
Total seats
State Senate:
State House:
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Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures

This page is about redistricting in Montana. Like many of the plains states, Montana has a single at-large Congressional seat and missed gaining a second in 2012. Residents of the rural eastern plains shifted west, into the Rocky Mountain part of the state. The other gainer was Billings, located in south-central Montana.

Within the western region, Bozeman acted as a hub for growth, coming in with the overall highest growth in the state. The city proper grew more than a third and the suburbs around it went nearly as fast.

New state legislative districts will not go into effect until the 2014 elections.[1]


The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission is responsible for redistricting. It is one of 11 commissions nationwide that is responsible for redistricting. This redistricting commission is composed of 5 members, chosen by the following:

  • 1 Appointed by the Majority Leader of the House
  • 1 Appointed by the Minority Leader of the House
  • 1 Appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate
  • 1 Appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate

These four members select the fifth member, who serves as the Commission's Chairperson. That honor in 2012 went to retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Regnier.[2]

The Montana redistricting process does not take effect until 4 years into the decade -- a longer process than most states.

For example, the 1990 census did not take effect until 1994; the 2000 census until 2004; and the 2010 census will be implemented in 2014.



The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission was appointed in April 2009. The first four members were selected by Senate and House leaders. The four commissioners were unable to agree upon a fifth member, who was then appointed by the Court.[3] The five members of the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission are:[4]


The Districting and Apportionment Commission adopted redistricting criteria on May 28, 2010. In particular, the commission set the population deviation at 3% -- meaning no state legislative district could stray from the ideal population by 3%. During the 2000 redistricting process, the deviation used was 5%, which Republicans argue led to unfair redistricting. Their contention was that Democratic-leaning districts were typically under-populated while Republican districts were over-populated.[5]

The deadline for completing redistricting is 2013.

Public hearings

A total of eight redistricting hearings were held between 2009-2010. Below are some of the public comments that were offered to the commission.

Partisan control

In the 2010 elections, Republicans gained a sweeping advantage in the Montana House of Representatives, picking up 17 seats to swing a previously tied chamber into a 2/3 majority. The Montana State Senate remained in Republican control, with the GOP gaining an additional seat to have a 28-22 majority. Montana has a longer process than most states for redistricting and so there was one more election -- in fall 2012 -- before the legislature votes on the redistricting plan. In these elections Republicans continued their domination of both chambers.

Census results

On March 14, 2011, the Census Bureau shipped Montana's local census data to the governor and legislative leaders. This data , which was used to guide redistricting for state and local office, is publicly available for downloading.[6]

Incorporated places/County population changes

These tables show the change in population in the five largest incorporated places and counties in Montana from 2000-2010.[7]

Top Five most populous incorporated places
Incorporated place 2000 Population 2010 Population Percent Change
Billings city 89,847 104,170 15.9%
Missoula city 57,053 66,788 17.1%
Great Falls city 56,690 75,092 3.2%
Bozeman city 27,509 37,280 35.5%
Butte-Silver Bow 34,606 34,200 -1.2%
Top Five most populous counties
County 2000 Population 2010 Population Percent Change
Yellowstone 129,352 147,972 14.4%
Missoula 95,802 109,299 14.1%
Flathead 74,471 90,928 22.1%
Gallatin 67,831 89,513 32.0%
Cascade 80,357 81,327 1.2%

The areas of the state that displayed the largest population growth were Flathead Valley, suburban Bozeman and suburban Billings. These locations are generally viewed as Republican strongholds. Of the 20 fastest-growing House districts, 14 are within these three areas.[8]

American Indian count

Joe Lamson -- who is a member of the Montana Redistricting Commission -- said he believes the census undercounted American Indians. On June 28, 2011, he presented information to the State Tribal Relations Committee demonstrating that roughly 9,000 American Indians were not counted by the Census. Based on surveys, the state could then petition the Census Bureau to alter the figures.[9]

Congressional map

Montana has only one U.S. House seat, and therefore does not require any map changes. The entire state is one district.

Legislative maps

The legislative work plan was adopted on September 24, 2009. The new districts will not go into effect until the 2014 elections.[10]

In a meeting on May 16, 2011, the commission received public comments and discussed the training sessions and Congressional plan.[11]

Figure 3: This image shows the House districts created in 2000 along with the updated 2010 population counts.

A July 12, 2011 meeting was held to adopt the districting process and receive additional public comment.[12]

Statewide approach

The Montana District and Apportionment Commission met on July 12, 2011 and voted to approach the process by taking the state as a "whole" -- rather than a regional approach which had been employed in years past.[13] The commission hoped to have a map drawn and ready for public viewing by the end of 2011.[14]

Drafts released

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission met on February 17, 2012 to take a first look at the proposed legislative maps. The five-member commission is composed of two Democratic and two Republican appointees, as well as one member chosen by the State Supreme Court. The commission next took the drafts to gather public input across the state. The maps won’t go into effect until the 2014 elections. The 2012 races were run using the maps drawn after the 2000 Census. This is the standard time-line used in Montana. In the 2000 redistricting cycle, the commission was controlled by Democrats 3-2. Republicans contend that map was drawn with a partisan slant in favor of Democrats.[15]

Tentative map approved

On August 17, 2012, the commission unanimously approved a tentative map of all 100 House districts, which is available here.

Commissioners met on October 25 to correct technical errors in the proposed plan and a public hearing took place November 15 in Helena to introduce amendments and discuss how districts would be paired.[16] They met again in late November to consider further changes and decide on the 50 Senate districts, which are composed by paring two House districts.[17][18]

A final vote on the new districts was scheduled for December 19. The commission then submitted their final plan to the Legislature on January 17, 2013.[19] On February 4, the House advanced a proposal on a party-line vote of 61-39 that asked the Commission to correct parts of the map that Republicans did not like. Democrats said the proposal was a partisan request and should be ignored.[20]

Who will benefit?

Although the maps had yet to be finalized, an analysis of the new districts by the IR State Bureau in December 2012 showed Republicans would most likely continue to control the Legislature through the next decade, but that Democrats would have a chance.

According to the analysis, Republicans would have 42-47 relatively safe House seats and 21-24 safe Senate seats. Democrats, meanwhile, would have 32-39 relatively safe House seats and 19-20 safe Senate seats.[21]

Final legislative plan approved

On February 12, 2013, the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission finalized maps for the 100 House Districts and 50 Senate Districts by rejecting recommendations from Republican legislative leaders, and instead adopting a small bipartisan request. The panel approved the plan with a split vote with both Republicans on the commission voting against the final plan, arguing that too many decisions favored Democrats. Chairman James Regnier said, "I don't think either side got what they wanted and I don't think either side was disadvantaged more than the other."[22][23]

The final legislative maps can be viewed here.


In March 2013, a group of registered voters in Fergus and Wheatland counties filed suit over the most recent redistricting plan. The plan assigned Brad Hamlett (D) to the new Senate District 15 for the final two years of his term, even though he does not live in the district. It also allowed Llew Jones (R) to run for re-election in District 9, though in the initial plan he was forced out by Rick Ripley (R) being assigned to his district. This situation is similar to one a decade ago, where constituents were assigned a Democrat senator living outside of their district for the final two years of his term. James Regnier, chair of the Districting and Apportionment Commission, said that the practice of assigning holdover senators to new districts creates a situation where some voters do not elect a new senator for six years.[24][25]


Prior to its admission to the Union, Montana's Territorial Legislative Assembly, from 1864-1889, was reapportioned every decade by county population. By the end of that time, however, the growth of mining interests and railroads led the cities of Butte and Helena to dominate the political scene. When the Montana Constitution was drafted in 1889, a deal was struck which made taxation favorable to the mining interests. In exchange, rural interests received disproportionate representation in the new legislature.

The constitution originally designated that each county, regardless of population, would have one senator, and that House representative would be tied to population by means of two apportionments per decade. In 1895 the five year reapportionment was dropped by the legislature, instead giving one representative to each county, with the rest doled out to more populous counties. This resulted in a wider gap between population and representation.

Figure 1: This map shows the Montana Congressional Districts after the 2000 census.

Explosive growth led the number of counties to go from the original 16 in 1889 to 54 by 1921. By this time there were 54 senators and 108 representatives, with population so far removed from the equation that senators representing 21% of the population held a voting majority. By 1960, Montana was among the worst malapportioned states in the nation. Urban interests, while a considerable part of the population, were essentially scoffed at in the legislature due to lack of proportional representation.

In 1965 a federal district court stepped in, pointing to what they saw as "invidious discrimination," and instructed the legislature to correct this practice. Standing committees on reapportionment were created, and many reapportionment plans were discussed, but none were approved. Due to their failure, the court reapportioned the state legislature as well as the state's congressional districts.

This action lead to a re-evaluation of the state constitution, and eventually, a constitutional convention. In 1972 urban voters, by the slightest of margins, approved a new constitution. Among the changes was the creation of a five-member citizen commission on reapportionment. The majority and minority leaders of each chamber would choose one member each, with those four selecting the fifth to be the chairman. In 1973 and 1980, the four selected failed to agree on a fifth and the Montana Supreme Court had to designate the final member.[26]


During the 2000 redistricting process, the commission created 52 House districts with a population deviance of more than 4%. The 1990 redistricting process created 29 House districts with a deviation above 4%.[27]

The 1990 commission had a majority in the Republicans favor while the Democrats were in the majority in 2000. Each time the party in control won more seats in the first election with the new districts.

Of the 50 Senate seats redistricted in 2000, 20 had a population deviation of more than 4% -- 12 with fewer than 4 and eight with more than 4. Democrats won nine of the 12 smaller districts while Republicans won six of the eight larger ones. The same trend was evident in the House, where Democrats won 22 of the 26 smaller districts and Republicans won 17 of the 26 larger ones.[27]

Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[28]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts N/A
State House Districts 9.85%
State Senate Districts 9.82%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

Lawsuits related to the 2000 Census

There were 2 lawsuits related to the Montana 2000 census redistricting process.[29]

  • Brown v. Districting and Apportionment Commission, No. ADV-2003-72 (1st Dist., Lewis and Clark County, July 2, 2003) : The 2003 legislature recommended the Districting and Apportionment Commission revise the plan it had decided on. The legislature also passed a new law stating that districts had to be “within a plus or minus 1% relative deviation from the ideal population of a district." The Commission ignored the recommendation, sending the plan to the Secretary of State for approval. The Secretary of State, finding the plan did not fit the new rule, refused to file it. Instead he sought judgment from the courts. The district court ruled the new law was in conflict with the Constitution and thus void, the Secretary of State's refusal to file violated the Constitution, and he also had no standing to seek a judgment on the constitutionality of the plan.
  • Wheat v. Brown, No. BDV-2003-601 (1st Dist., Lewis and Clark County, Jan. 2004), aff’d No. 04-015 (Mont. Feb. 18, 2004) : The 2003 legislature passed legislation assigning certain senators with two years left in their terms (known as "holdover senators") to specific districts in which they wouldn't have to run for re-election in 2004 and repealed a plan for such senators adopted by the commission. Three of the senators sued to block the plan, and the district court ruled that holdover senators was a part of redistricting and as such was the responsibility of the commission and not the legislature. The new legislation was deemed unconstitutional and affirmed by the state Supreme Court.

Constitutional explanation

With respect to redistricting, the Montana Constitution provides authority for an independent redistricting commission in Section 14 of Article V.

See also

External links


  1. NBC Montana, "Political Redistricting Process Begins In Montana," July 19, 2011
  2. Helena Independent Record, "Redistricting in hands of commission," May 18, 2011
  3. Billings Gazette, "Panel can't agree on 5th member," May 8, 2009
  4. Montana Legislature, "List of Commissioners"
  5. Flathead Beacon, "Inside a redistricting fight in Montana," April 12, 2010
  6. PR Newswire, "Census Bureau Ships Local 2010 Census Data to Montana," March 14, 2011
  7. U.S. Census Bureau, "Montana Custom tables 2010," accessed March 15, 2011
  8. Billings Gazette, "Legislative redistricting will shift seats, but the effects uncertain," July 17, 2011
  9. Beartooth NBC "State tribal relations," June 28, 2011
  10. Montana Legislature, "Work Plan for 2009-2013 Districting and Apportionment Commission," September 24, 2009
  11. Montana Legislature, "Meeting Minutes," May 16, 2011 (dead link)
  12. Clark Fork Chronicle, "Districting Commission to meet July 12," June 29, 2011 (timed out)
  13. Montana Watchdog, "Commission votes to tackle state as a whole in legislative redistricting," July 12, 2011
  14. My San Antonio, "Montana’s legislative election map to be redrawn," July 12, 2011
  15. The Missoulian, "Legislative redistricting panel gets look at new maps," February 17, 2012
  16. Billings Gazette, "Gazette opinion: Keeping tabs on state redistricting commission," October 17, 2012
  17. Great Falls Tribune, "Redistricting panel votes on Senate districts," December 1, 2012
  18. Billings Gazette, "Redistricting panel works on Montana Senate boundaries," November 27, 2012
  19. Independent Record, "Redistricting panel releases tentative plan; Helena districts change slightly," August 22, 2012
  20. Bozeman Daily Chronicle, "House backs GOP in legislative redistricting beef," February 4, 2013 (dead link)
  21. Independent Record, "News analysis: Who benefits from new legislative districts?," December 9, 2012
  22., "Montana redistricting panel adopts final plan," February 12, 2013
  23. Montana State Legislature, "Legislative Redistricting Plan (adopted 2/12/13)," accessed May 23, 2013
  24., "Group sues over redistricting amendment," March 26, 2013
  25., "Central Montana voters sue to invalidate portion of redistricting plan," March 25, 2013
  26. Policy Archive, "Reapportionment Politics: The History of Redistricting in the 50 States," Rose Institute of State and Local Government, January 1981 (pg.183-189)
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Billings Gazette, "Analysis: Redistricting favors state Democrats," November 30, 2007
  28. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”," accessed February 1, 2011
  29. Minnesota State Senate, "2000 Redistricting Case Summaries"