Redistricting in Washington

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Redistricting in Washington
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General information
Current legislative control:
Congressional process:
Independent commission
State legislature process:
Independent commission
Total seats
Congress: 10
State Senate: 25
State House: 98
Redistricting in other states
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RedistrictingState-by-state redistricting proceduresState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census
Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of Washington's 10 United States Representatives and 123 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. United States Senators are not elected by districts, but by the states at large. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Redistricting is a fiercely-contested issue, primarily due to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to favor one political party, individual or constituency over another. Two areas of contention include the following:

Competitiveness: Political parties or incumbents sometimes draw district lines for their benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation. Some argue that this practice contributes to the present lack of competitive elections. Uncompetitive elections can in turn discourage participation.[2]
Race and ethnicity: District lines sometimes minimize the influence of minority voters by disproportionately consolidating them within single districts or splitting them across several districts. These practices are examples of "packing" and "cracking," respectively.[2][3][4][5]
In Washington, congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by an independent commission. Washington is one of only six states in which both congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn by independent commissions.


See also: Redistricting

Federal law stipulates that all districts, whether congressional or state legislative, must meet two primary criteria.

  1. Equal population: According to All About Redistricting, federal law "requires that each district have about the same population: each federal district within a state must have about the same number of people [and] each state district within a state must have about the same number of people." Specific standards for determining whether populations are sufficiently equal vary for congressional and state legislative districts. See below for further details.[6]
  2. Race and ethnicity: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 states that district lines must not dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minority groups. This provision "applies whether the denial is intentional, or an unintended end result. Courts essentially test whether the way that districts are drawn takes decisive political power away from a cohesive minority bloc otherwise at risk for discrimination."[6]

In most states, the legislatures are primarily responsible for both congressional and state legislative redistricting. However, reformers argue that partisan legislators are incapable of establishing fair district lines because they have a vested interest in the outcome. Instead, reformers advocate using different redistricting processes, including independent commissions or electronic methods. Opponents of these reforms argue that alternative processes are less accountable to voters, subject to partisan abuse, and perhaps unconstitutional.

State requirements


In addition to the federal criteria noted above, individual states may impose additional requirements on redistricting. Common state-level redistricting criteria are listed below. Typically, these requirements are quite flexible.

  1. Contiguity refers to the principle that all areas within a district should be "physically adjacent." A total of 49 states require that districts of at least one state legislative chamber be contiguous. A total of 23 states require that congressional districts meet contiguity requirements.[6][7]
  2. Compactness refers to the general principle that "the distance between all parts of a district" ought to be minimized. The United States Supreme Court has "construed compactness to indicate that residents have some sort of cultural cohesion in common." A total of 37 states "require their legislative districts to be reasonably compact." A total of 18 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[6][7]
  3. A community of interest is a "group of people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood, who have common political, social or economic interests." A total of 24 states require that the maintenance of communities of interest be considered in the drawing of state legislative districts. A total of 13 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[6][7]
  4. A total of 42 states require that state legislative district lines be drawn to account for political boundaries (e.g., the limits of counties, cities and towns). A total of 19 states require that similar considerations be made in the drawing of congressional districts.[6][7]

Congressional redistricting

According to Article 1, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the states and their legislatures have primary authority in determining the "times, places and manner" of congressional elections. Congress may also pass laws regulating congressional elections. Section 4 explicitly vests the authority to regulate congressional elections with the legislative branches of the states and the federal government and not with the executive or judicial branches.[8][9]

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.[10]

—United States Constitution

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows, or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."[11][12][6]

The equal population requirement for congressional districts is strict. According to All About Redistricting, "any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the 'ideal' population), must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a 1 percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional."[6]

State legislative redistricting

The United States Constitution is silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting. In the mid-1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in an effort to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that "the Equal Protection Clause [of the United States Constitution] demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races." According to All About Redistricting, "it has become accepted that a [redistricting] plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts [within a state or jurisdiction] are more than 10 percent apart."

State process

See also: State-by-state redistricting procedures

In 37 states, legislatures are primarily responsible for drawing congressional district lines. Seven states have only one congressional district each, so congressional redistricting is not necessary. Four states employ independent commissions to draw the district maps. In two states, politician commissions draw congressional district lines.

State legislative district lines are primarily the province of the state legislatures themselves in 37 states. In seven states, politician commissions draw state legislative district lines. In the remaining six states, independent commissions draw the lines.[13]

In Washington, congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by a five-member independent commission. The commission was established by constitutional amendment in 1983. The majority and minority leaders of the Washington State Senate and Washington House of Representatives each appoint one registered voter to the commission. These four commissioners appoint a fifth, non-voting member to serve as the commission's chair. In the event that the four voting commissioners cannot agree on a chair, the Washington Supreme Court must appoint one.[14]

The Washington Constitution stipulates that no commission member may have been an elected official or party officer in the two-year period prior to his or her appointment. Individuals who have registered with the state as lobbyists within the past year are also prohibited from serving on the commission.[14]

The Washington State Legislature may amend the commission's maps by a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber.[14]

The state constitution requires that congressional and state legislative districts "should be contiguous, compact, and convenient, and follow natural, geographic, artificial, or political subdivision boundaries." The constitution states that the redistricting commission "must not purposely draw plans to favor or discriminate against any political party or group."[14]

State statutes require that congressional and state legislative districts "preserve areas recognized as communities of interest." State statutes also require the commission to draw districts that "provide fair and effective representation" and "encourage electoral competition."[14]

District maps

Congressional districts

See also: United States congressional delegations from Washington
Click the above image to enlarge it.
Source: The National Atlas of the United States of America

Washington comprises 10 congressional districts. The map to the right depicts Washington's congressional district lines as drawn following the 2010 United States Census. The table below lists Washington's current House representatives.

Washington delegation to the United States House of Representatives
NamePartyPositionAssumed officeTerm ends
Adam SmithDemocratic PartyDistrict 9 1997January 3, 2017
Cathy McMorris RodgersRepublican PartyDistrict 5 2005January 3, 2017
Dan NewhouseRepublican PartyDistrict 4 2015January 3, 2017
Dave ReichertRepublican PartyDistrict 8 2005January 3, 2017
Denny HeckDemocratic PartyDistrict 10 2013January 3, 2017
Derek KilmerDemocratic PartyDistrict 6 2013January 3, 2017
Jaime Herrera BeutlerRepublican PartyDistrict 3 2011January 3, 2017
Jim McDermottDemocratic PartyDistrict 7 1989January 3, 2017
Rick LarsenDemocratic PartyDistrict 2 2001January 3, 2017
Suzan DelBeneDemocratic PartyDistrict 1 2012January 3, 2017

State legislative maps

See also: Washington State Senate and Washington House of Representatives

Washington comprises 49 state legislative districts. Each district elects one state senator and two state representatives. State senators are elected every four years in partisan elections. State representatives are elected every two years in partisan elections. To access the state legislative district maps approved following the 2010 United States Census, click here.[15]


There are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between partisan gerrymandering and electoral competitiveness. Some critics contend that the dominant redistricting methods result in a lack of competitive elections. Jennifer Clark, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said, "The redistricting process has important consequences for voters. In some states, incumbent legislators work together to protect their own seats, which produces less competition in the political system. Voters may feel as though they do not have a meaningful alternative to the incumbent legislator. Legislators who lack competition in their districts have less incentive to adhere to their constituents’ opinions."[16]

Some question the impact of redistricting on electoral competitiveness. In 2006, Emory University professors Alan Abramowitz, Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning wrote, "[Some] studies have concluded that redistricting has a neutral or positive effect on competition. ... [It] is often the case that partisan redistricting has the effect of reducing the safety of incumbents, thereby making elections more competitive."[17]

The individuals involved in redistricting must balance the desire for increased competitiveness with other principles that might conflict with that goal, such as compactness, contiguity, and maintaining communities of interest. For instance, it may at times be impossible to draw a competitive district that is both compact and preserves communities of interest.

In 2011, James Cottrill, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, published a study of the effect of "non-legislative approaches" to redistricting on the competitiveness of congressional elections. Cottrill found that "particular types of [non-legislative approaches] encourage the appearance in congressional elections of experienced and well-financed challengers." Cottrill cautioned, however, that non-legislative approaches "contribute neither to decreased vote percentages when incumbents win elections nor to a greater probability of their defeat."[18]


See also: Margin of victory analysis for the 2014 congressional elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia analyzed the margins of victory in all 435 contests for the United States House of Representatives. Ballotpedia found that the average margin of victory was 35.8 percent, compared to 31.8 percent in 2012. An election is deemed competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. A total of 318 elections (73 percent of all House elections) were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or more. Only 26 elections (6 percent of the total) were won by margins of victory of 5 percent or less. See the table below for further details.

Note: The data below are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

In Washington, seven elections for the United States House of Representatives were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory occurred in District 4, where Dan Newhouse (R) won by 1.6 percent. The largest margin of victory occurred in District 7, where Jim McDermott (D) won by 61.9 percent. The average margin of victory in Washington was 24 percent. See the table below for full details.

Electoral margins of victory in 2014 United States House of Representatives elections, Washington
District Winner Margin of victory Total votes cast Top opponent
District 1 Democratic Party Suzan DelBene 10.1% 225,579 Pedro Celis
District 2 Democratic Party Rick Larsen 21.1% 201,691 B.J. Guillot
District 3 Republican Party Jaime Herrera Beutler 23.1% 202,814 Bob Dingethal
District 4 Republican Party Dan Newhouse 1.6% 153,079 Clint Didier
District 5 Republican Party Cathy McMorris Rodgers 21.4% 223,242 Joseph Pakootas
District 6 Democratic Party Derek Kilmer 26% 224,290 Marty McClendon
District 7 Democratic Party Jim McDermott 61.9% 251,875 Craig Keller
District 8 Republican Party Dave Reichert 26.5% 198,744 Jason Ritchie
District 9 Democratic Party Adam Smith 41.7% 166,794 Doug Basler
District 10 Democratic Party Denny Heck 9.4% 181,492 Joyce McDonald

State legislatures

See also: Margin of victory in state legislative elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia conducted a study of competitive districts in 44 state legislative chambers between 2010 and 2012. Ballotpedia found that there were 61 fewer competitive general election contests in 2012 than in 2010. Of the 44 chambers studied, 25 experienced a net loss in the number of competitive elections. A total of 17 experienced a net increase. In total, 16.2 percent of the 3,842 legislative contests studied saw competitive general elections in 2010. In 2012, only 14.6 percent of the contests studied saw competitive general elections. An election was considered competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. An election was considered mildly competitive if it was won by a margin of victory between 5 and 10 percent. For more information regarding this report, including methodology, click here.

Note: These data are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

There were seven competitive elections for the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, compared to 11 in 2010. There were nine mildly competitive state House races in 2012, compared to 11 in 2010. This amounted to a net loss of six competitive elections.

Partisan composition

The tables below summarize the current partisan composition of the Washington House of Representatives and the Washington State Senate.


SLP badge.png
Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 51
     Republican Party 47
Total 98


Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 24
     Republican Party 25
Total 49

Race and ethnicity

See also: Majority-minority districts

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that electoral district lines cannot be drawn in such a manner as to "improperly dilute minorities' voting power."

No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.[10]

—Voting Rights Act of 1965[19]

States and other political subdivisions may create majority-minority districts in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A majority-minority district is a district in which minority groups comprise a majority of the district's total population. As of 2013, Washington was home to one congressional majority-minority district.[3][4][5]

Proponents of majority-minority districts maintain that these districts are a necessary hindrance to the practice of "cracking." Cracking occurs when a constituency is divided between several districts in order to prevent it from achieving a majority in any one district. In addition, supporters argue that the drawing of majority-minority districts has resulted in an increased number of minority representatives in state legislatures and Congress.[3][4][5]

Critics, meanwhile, contend that the establishment of majority-minority districts results in "packing." Packing occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Because minority groups tend to vote Democratic, critics argue that majority-minority districts ultimately present an unfair advantage to Republicans by consolidating Democratic votes into a smaller number of districts.[3][4][5]


See also: Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 and Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 (as percentages)

The tables below provide demographic information for each of Washington's congressional districts as of 2013. At that time, the population of the largest congressional district, District 8, totaled 687,373, and the population of the smallest, District 5, totaled 676,586, which represented a difference of 1.6 percent.[20]

Demographics of Washington's congressional districts (as percentages)
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Washington 11.49% 71.92% 3.46% 1.21% 7.26% 0.58% 0.15% 3.94%
District 1 8.3% 77% 1.1% 0.9% 8.8% 0.3% 0.2% 3.4%
District 2 9.9% 74.1% 2.4% 1.4% 7.6% 0.4% 0.2% 4%
District 3 8.2% 82.6% 1.4% 0.8% 3.1% 0.4% 0.1% 3.4%
District 4 36.6% 56.6% 1% 2.3% 1.5% 0.1% 0.1% 1.9%
District 5 5.8% 85.3% 1.6% 1.5% 2.3% 0.3% 0.1% 3.1%
District 6 6.7% 78.3% 3.6% 1.9% 3.9% 0.6% 0.2% 4.8%
District 7 7.3% 72.6% 4.2% 0.6% 10.3% 0.5% 0.2% 4.4%
District 8 10.1% 74.5% 2.4% 0.9% 7.4% 0.5% 0.2% 4%
District 9 11.7% 49.1% 11% 0.6% 21.2% 1.2% 0.3% 5%
District 10 10.3% 69.3% 5.8% 1.2% 6.3% 1.5% 0.1% 5.4%
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
Demographics of Washington's congressional districts
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Washington 783,693 4,904,925 235,721 82,263 495,034 39,462 9,903 268,578 6,819,579
District 1 56,979 527,095 7,498 6,160 60,515 1,719 1,305 22,963 684,234
District 2 67,441 502,686 16,198 9,273 51,746 2,919 1,161 27,317 678,741
District 3 55,438 561,348 9,616 5,342 20,829 2,961 591 23,145 679,270
District 4 249,693 386,418 6,608 15,625 10,022 605 469 12,882 682,322
District 5 38,957 577,285 10,618 10,334 15,617 2,038 615 21,122 676,586
District 6 45,625 530,618 24,503 12,948 26,310 4,059 1,044 32,309 677,416
District 7 49,776 498,000 29,080 4,113 70,974 3,383 1,072 29,853 686,251
District 8 69,306 512,009 16,759 6,309 51,074 3,338 1,067 27,511 687,373
District 9 79,630 334,854 74,915 4,042 144,654 7,961 1,804 34,216 682,076
District 10 70,848 474,612 39,926 8,117 43,293 10,479 775 37,260 685,310
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015

Redistricting after the 2010 census

See also: Redistricting in Washington after the 2010 census

Congressional redistricting, 2010

Following the 2010 United States Census, Washington gained one congressional seat. On January 1, 2012, the state's independent redistricting commission released its congressional district plan. On February 1, 2012, the state legislature passed "a slightly amended" version of this plan by a two-thirds vote. Michael Barone and Chuck McCutcheon, writing for The Almanac of American Politics, described the 2010 congressional redistricting cycle in Washington as follows:[14][21]

On December 28, 2011, three days before their New Year’s Eve deadline, the commissioners forged a compromise in a display of bipartisanship rare for the 2012 cycle. The new 10th District went to the South Sound and was a perfect fit for Democrat Denny Heck, who had lost to Herrera Beutler in 2010. In exchange, Democrats agreed to stretch the suburban Seattle 1st District of Democrat Jay Inslee, who was leaving to run for governor, all the way north to the Canadian border to make it marginally more competitive. In addition, Herrera Beutler, Reichert, and 2nd District Democrat Rick Larsen would all shed unfavorable areas and get safer seats. In November 2012, Heck won the 10th, Democrats held the 1st, and every other incumbent won reelection, for a 6-4 Democratic lead.[10]

The Almanac of American Politics

State legislative redistricting, 2010

On January 1, 2012, the state's independent redistricting commission released its state legislative district plan. On February 1, 2012, the state legislature passed "a slightly amended" version of this plan by a two-thirds vote.[14]

Redistricting ballot measures

Voting on
elections and campaigns
Ballot measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Redistricting measures on the ballot and List of Washington ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked the following ballot measure(s) relating to redistricting in Washington.

  1. Washington Congressional Reapportionment and Redistricting, Referendum 16 (1966)
  2. Washington Legislative Reapportionment and Redistricting, Initiative 211 (1962)
  3. Washington Legislative Reapportionment and Redistricting Act, Initiative 199 (1956)
  4. Washington Redistricting Commission, SJR 103 (1983)
  5. Washington State Legislative Redistricting, Initiative 57 (1930)

Recent news

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See also

External links

Additional reading


  1. Republicans control the Senate; Democrats control the House.
  2. 2.0 2.1 All About Redistricting, "Why does it matter?" accessed April 8, 2015
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Indy Week, "Cracked, stacked and packed: Initial redistricting maps met with skepticism and dismay," June 29, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 The Atlantic, "How the Voting Rights Act Hurts Democrats and Minorities," June 17, 2013
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Redrawing the Lines, "The Role of Section 2 - Majority Minority Districts," accessed April 6, 2015
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 All About Redistricting, "Where are the lines drawn?" accessed April 9, 2015
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 FairVote, "Redistricting Glossary," accessed April 9, 2015
  8. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, "Election Regulations," accessed April 13, 2015
  9. Brookings, "Redistricting and the United States Constitution," March 22, 2011
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  11. Brennan Center for Justice, "A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting," accessed March 25, 2015
  12. The Constitution of the United States of America, "Article 1, Section 2," accessed March 25, 2015
  13. All About Redistricting, "Who draws the lines?" accessed March 25, 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 All About Redistricting, "Washington," accessed May 6, 2015
  15. Washington State Redistricting Commission, "Final Legislative District Plan - Amended," accessed May 6, 2015
  16. The Daily Cougar, "Redistricting will affect November election," October 16, 2012
  17. The Journal of Politics, "Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections," February 2006
  18. Polity, "The Effects of Non-Legislative Approaches to Redistricting on Competition in Congressional Elections," October 3, 2011
  19. Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, "Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965," accessed April 6, 2015
  20. United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
  21. Barone, M. & McCutcheon, C. (2013). The almanac of American politics 2014 : the senators, the representatives and the governors : their records and election results, their states and districts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.