Redistricting in Washington

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Redistricting in Washington
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General information
Partisan control:
Washington State Redistricting Commission
January 1, 2012
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 Washington. The state grew 14.1% percent from 2000 to 2010 and distinguished itself as the only solidly Democratic state to gain a Congressional district.[1]

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


The Washington State Redistricting Commission is responsible for redistricting. The redistricting commission is comprised of five 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 a fifth non-voting member who acts as chair. If a fifth member cannot be selected, then the Washington Supreme Court selects a member. The process became law in 1983, prior to which Washington's redistricting was legislatively controlled. In 2011, the voting members were sworn in on January 18, 2011 and had until the end of the month to select the final member.[2][3]

In Washington, plans don't require gubernatorial approval and a two-third legislative majority is all that is required to make minor changes.


Washington state Democrats selected their delegates by the end of December 2010, naming Tim Ceis, a one-time deputy mayor of Seattle, along with Dean Foster, who had previously been a Chief Clerk of the Washington House of Representatives and a gubernatorial chief of staff.[4]

Republicans made their announcements early in the new year, sending Slade Gorton, a former U.S. Senator, and Tom Huff, who once represented Gig Habor at the state level, to the panel.[5] The inclusion of Gorton, who was involved in the 1961 redistricting at the dawn of his political career, meant the panel would have a voice to represent the days before redistricting was officially bipartisan.[6]

Commission members

Joint Senate-House news conference announcing picks for the redistricting commission.

For redistricting after the 2010 census, the following members served on the Washington State Redistricting Commission:[7]

  • Senate Republican Caucus: Slade Gorton, a former U.S. Senator
  • Senate Democratic Caucus: Tim Ceis, former Deputy Mayor of Seattle
  • House Republican Caucus: Tom Huff, founder of the Washington Retail Association
  • House Democratic Caucus: Dean Foster, former Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives

On January 28, 2011, Lura Powell, of Richmond, was announced as the commission's final member and its chair.[8] Prior to her appointment, Washington's Eastern half had been vocal about their perceived exclusion from the commission so far.[9] Much editorializing had also urged a woman be named to balance out the make-up of the group.

Once selected, Dr. Powell was immediately sworn in by Secretary of State Sam Reed.[10]

In addition to Dr. Powell, who was a non-voting and independent chair, the Commission had an Executive Director. On February 24, 2011, Bonnie Bunning was named to that post. A geologist by training, Bunning worked in the Washington Department of Natural Resources under both Democratic and Republican administrations.[11]

Public Hearings

With the commission formed and data in hand, the first redistricting hearing was set for March 29, 2011. After that, Commission Chair Lura Powell announced that regular hearings would be held across the state. The meeting schedule can be found here. The final public hearing was held on August 9, 2011.

Census results

The release of detailed Census numbers confirmed what Washingtonians knew; all nine existing Congressional districts would need to shrink not only to accommodate the new 10th Washington district but also to get back to proportionate seats. Some seats were tens of thousands of residents too large; a few were actually more than 100,000 residents too large.[12]

The first look Commission members got at the data indicated the state could be set to have a district that would stretch across the Cascade Mountains and include residents of both the Eastern and Western regions of Washington, something the state had not seen in decades.[13]

Congressional redistricting

2011 overview

Washington went into 2011 with the distinction of being the only true Democratic stronghold to gain a Congressional seat, boosting its Federal delegation to 10.[14] Beginning in 2012, Washington was set to be second in the West in total electoral votes, though still a distant second to California and her 55 votes.[15] Just as quickly as the Census Bureau confirmed the state would pick up a new seat, experts began weighing in on where that district would be sited. With growth occurring mostly in the Western half of the state and with two fastest growing seats in GOP hands, certain trends emerged quickly.[16]

Early favorites were the south Puget Sound region, an area taken up by parts of the 3rd, 8th, and 9th Districts as of 2010. The new 10th District could cut territory from any of those, or from the 2nd; whether the GOP or Dems would ultimately lose safe territory depended heavily on which existing sear gave the most land to the new District. The city of Olympia was a strong contender to be the center of the new 10th Congressional District, as was the suburban sprawl of Vancouver. In 2001, it was indeed Vancouver's immense growth that played a decisive hand in drawing boundaries.[17]

In the ten years since then, Washington's current Congressional Districts grew disproportionately, and while all needed to shed citizens to make equal representation, the 8th, with 137,570 people to trim, was the leader. Held by Republican Dave Reichert, the 8th featured a conservative leaning area around Bellevue, bound to be a target on both sides, be it to save the core of a GOP seat or move it into a new District.[18][19]

The newly awarded 10th seat also gave hope to those behind the "Cascade Curtain", a sprawling group of counties, sharing commonalities, that ran down the state's Western shoreline. Prior to 2011, the Curtain was part of the 4th District, and voters therein often complained of having their political wishes overshadowed by Washington's more populous districts.[20]


Figure 2: This map shows the Washington Legislative Districts after the 2000 census.

Once the anticipated new seat was official, two likely layouts came to the forefront of debate. In one, Olympia would essentially anchor the new Congressional District and take much of its population from the southwestern part of the state, carving out a portion of the rapidly expanding 3rd.

The other theory had Bellevue at the center of the 10th, with the current 8th District giving up a chunk of land. Either scenario was likely to cast the redrawn 3rd and 8th seats to the West, where the officeholder would pick up portions of the Yakima Valley. Kirkland, split between the 1st and 8th Districts, was a candidate to make up part of the new 10th.[21]

Alternately, Thurston County and northeast King County were suggested as hubs of the new 10th District, attractive areas for the purpose as they lacked a resident incumbent Congressman.[22]

Knowing the focus would be in the West, both parties named committee members hailing from the Puget Sound area, leading to outcry from Wasington's Eastern area that they were being cut out of the process early on.[23][24] Both the 4th and 5th seats needed to lose thousands of residents, and the possibility that a new seat could stretch over the Cascades became a source of worry. Eastern politicians could face a harder time winning Congressional seats that spanned the mountains and the particular structuring of such a seat could also worsen the chances for any Democratic candidate.[25]

Early news from the Commission was that Mercer Island would probably remain in the Eastside, rather than being moved into a Seattle district.[26]

At the state level, one of the first key bills filed was Democrat Hans Dunshee's HB 1092, which proposed creating two House seats within each of Washington's 49 legislative districts.[27] What Dunshee touted as a way to cut the size of districts and thereby increase the time legislators' could spend getting to know constituents and their issues was countered by GOP lawmakers who asserted that the current system better served voters by giving them two voices in the legislature. Overall, HB 1092 looked to have a weak chance of passing.

Dennis Kucinich

Given the possibility that his Ohio seat might be eliminated, Dennis Kucinich began floating the idea of moving to Washington and seeking a seat there. The state only required a candidate for the U.S. House to establish residency 30 days before filing, meaning it would be at least a theoretical possibility.

Were Kucinich to move on the idea, Washington's new 10th seat would have been the first idea; however, if the new district were drawn around the centrists and GOP-leaning areas of the South Sound, a Democrat of Kucinich's bent would not have been be easily electable. One other possibility would have been in the reconfigured 1st, held by Democrat Jay Inslee. Were Inslee to run for Governor, as had been rumored, Kucinich would have had an open seat in a left-leaning area. Another rumor had Kucinich mulling a run in the 7th, Seattle's left-wing working class suburbs.

As far as how welcome Kucinich would be in the 2012 field, local party leaders were reportedly cool, running to cold, to the idea. Former House Majority Leader Denny Heck was thought to have the first shot at the Democratic nomination for the new seat.[28] The chair of Washington's Democratic state party said Kucinich had not directly contacted the party about a candidacy and described the entire story as, 'tremendously unusual."[29]

Kucinich had some, albeit limited, familiarity with the state, having held fundraisers in liberal areas during his Presidential campaigns and having once lived on the coast. Still, Washington's media saw him as an Ohioan and went so far as to call him a "shameless self promoter" with no connection to the state "beyond opportunity".[30]

In the end, Kucinich's district in Ohio remained in tact and he announced on September 14, 2011 that he would seek re-election in Ohio. "I have been praying that I could continue to serve my Cleveland-area constituency and it looks like I have a chance. That is all I could hope for," he said.[31]


Following three months of public input, the Washington State Redistricting Commission unveiled their initial draft maps for congressional and legislative districts in Olympia on September 13. Each of the four voting members of the commission presented their ideas. This marked the opening of the public comment period on the draft maps, which went through October 11. Final maps were expected to be completed by early November.[32][33]

Three of the four commission members endorsed the creation of a majority-minority congressional district - the first of its kind in the state - to be made of up parts of southeast Seattle and South King County cities. Both sides appeared to draw the lines to their advantage, with Republicans proposing more rural districts, while one Democratic map moved 15 current GOP state legislators out of their districts.[34]

Reduces maps from four to two

At a meeting on October 11, the panel announced it would be holding a special meeting on October 14 to narrow the proposals from four down to two.[35] That same day ended the public comment period. All told the commission received 239 unique comments from over 686 people during the month-long period.[36]

The two maps selected were compromises between all four commissioners. Democratic commissioner Tom Huff said, “What we did today, I think, is a real positive step forward, reducing four maps into two.” [37]

Analysis by The News Tribune found the Democrats map displaced one Democratic incumbent and at least 13 Republican incumbents. Similarly, the Republicans map displaced one Republican incumbent and at least 13 Democratic incumbents.[38]

Agreement reached

Figure 2: This map shows the new congressional districts proposed by the commission.

With time running out to meet the December 31 deadline, the Redistricting Commission released a draft plan of new congressional districts on December 28. The new 10th District would be centered in Olympia, a strongly Democratic area. Democrats were also considered to have safe seats in the 6th, 7th and 9th Districts, while Republicans also had four safe seats - the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th. The 1st and 2nd were considered up for grabs.[39]

The commission met through the weekend, finally announcing unanimous agreement on a plan for new legislative districts at 9:55 p.m. on January 1 - two hours before the job would have gone to the State Supreme Court.[40] It wasn't the first time maps were agreed upon in the final moments - redistricting went to the New Year's day deadline in 1991 and 2001 as well.[41] While several issues needed to be resolved, the main focus was on reaching an agreement on eastern legislative districts[42], especially how to distribute Hispanics in the Yakima area.[43]

Following the vote, the commission sent their plans to the Legislature.[44] Under the law, legislators are only allowed to make adjustments that impact less than 2 percent of a district's population and must be approved by a two-thirds majority. Tweaks were made and unanimously approved on January 27.[45]

Citizen activism

Dean Foster explains how the public can be involved in the 2011 redistricting process.

Win/Win Network

A non-profit dedicated to creating Washington's first "majority people of color" district, the Win/Win network drew up a plan that would carve up Seattle and its environs in order to create such a seat, announcing plans to submit it to the Washington State Redistricting Commission.[46]

The first obstacle - cutting Seattle in half - arose early. Seattle was contained within a single seat, the 17th, whose Democratic Congressman publicly said he didn't quite see the point of cutting up the city. The GOP would likely also resist the plan, as heavily blue Seattle, cut in two and put into play in two seats, would worsen their electoral chances.

The Redistricting Committee, while accepting the plan for consideration and reiterating that it welcomed all public participation and submissions, noted that not splitting cities is high on its list of goals for the 2011 remapping. That sentiment was echoed by a University of Washington professor emeritus, who noted that the seat would give no one racial minority the bulk of the vote but would instead deliberately ensure whites would be the minority. Richard Morrill said, "It assumes it's whites versus everybody else. That's not very helpful."

The proposed seat, barely possible by combing southeast Seattle and selected suburbs, was best described as following the boundaries of the the 11th, 30th, 33rd, 37th and 47th.[47]

Push for majority-minority district

In early June, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with other advocates, sent a letter to the State Redistricting Commission arguing for a legislative majority-minority district, citing Yakima County, where the number of Latinos had continued to grow but did not have proper representation. Advocate groups had also proposed a minority congressional district in King County.[48]

According to redistricting commissioner Tom Ceis, the issue of a majority-minority district had come up more than any other during the public forums held by the commission.[49]

Legal issues

Yakima City Council lawsuit

Filed by Tim Schoenrock, an immigration attorney hired by former Yakima Democratic Party chairman Tony Sandoval, an April 2011 case charged that the city was on long term violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts, the text banning voting procedures designed to lead to discriminatory outcomes.

Sandoval's argument was that because Hispanics registered to vote and exercised that right in lower percentages than whites, the former group was being discriminated against by Yakima's City Council election system. Under the at-large election system, Sandoval alleged, whites were wrongly able to parlay their greater political engagement into more representation on the Council. The lawsuit claimed Yakima's 40% Hispanic population was thus underrepresented.[50]

Both Sandoval and Schoenrock were asking for the city to be divided into seven equal districts, a design that would allow concentrated populations a better chance of electing a member of their own community.

Schoenrock told reporters, "The white population votes at a larger percentage than Latinos thereby overruling every time the Latino group disagrees with the white vote."[51]

The lawsuit was of concern due to its proximity to another suit and to what the decision in both cases could mean. The Obama Administration's Justice Department had been arguing that the city of Irving Texas should be allowed to count illegally present individuals as residents for purposes of allocating representation and funding. As Yakima's lawsuit hinged on the question of whether there is a systematic deprivation of political representation to a minority population, if the Justice Department prevailed in the Irving case in time to apply that precedent to Yakima, the implications could have been far-reaching.

Citizens placed an initiative to achieve the same end on the August primary election ballot, but that item, if passed, would not take effect until 2012. The lawsuit sought to force an immediate change in how city council seats are divided.[52]

Vancouver citizen petition

John Milem, a retired attorney from Vancouver, filed a petition with the state Supreme Court on February 8, 2012, asking them to redraw the lines in order to meet legal requirements of compactness, equal representation and competitiveness. Per the state Constitution, the court had until March 1 to intervene in redistricting.[53]

Milem argued the state redistricting commission did not draw the lines as outlined by state law and the state constitution. The plan, he said, limited competition and did not represent communities as best as it could. The new congressional map split 9 counties, two more than the previous map, while the legislative map split 17. According to Milem, it was only necessary to split three to four for congress and 11 for legislative.[54]

While the case remained pending, the Washington Supreme Court authorized the use of the new districts for the 2012 elections on March 14. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, writing for the court, said, "In view of the approaching deadlines for the 2012 elections and the need for adequate time to perfect the case and consider briefs and arguments of the parties on the merits of Mr. Milem's petition, the court unanimously agreed" to allow the new districts to be used.[55]

Milem and state attorneys had until April 13 to submit an agreed finding of facts. If they did not agree, the case would go to Thurston County Superior Court.


  • January 15, 2011: The leader of each of the four legislative caucuses names a single commission member.
  • January 30, 2011: At least three of the four voting members must agree on a fifth non-voting member or the decision passes to the state Supreme Court.
  • November 1, 2011: Commission members aim to have a draft map ready for public comment.[56]
  • January 1, 2012: The commission, with at least three of the four voting members in accord, must agree on and present a final map to the state legislature.
  • January 30, 2012: If the commission misses its initial deadline and does not present a map by the end of January, the Washington Supreme Court takes over the process.
  • February 10, 2012: The legislature must pass the map as it is or approve any boundary changes with a supermajority vote.
  • March 1, 2012: If the Supreme Court has cause to take over the process, they must present a complete map by today.
  • August 14, 2012: The first election, primaries for the 2012 General Election, using the new boundaries takes place.


2001 redistricting

Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[57]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts 0.00%
State House Districts 0.30%
State Senate Districts 0.30%
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.
Figure 2: This map shows the deviation from perfectly proportioned districts in Washington as of 2010.

Constitutional explanation

The Washington State Constitution provides authority for the creation of and details the duties of a Redistricting Commission in Section 43 of Article II.

Ballot measures

The following measures have appeared on the Washington ballot pertaining to redistricting.

See also

External links


  1. Associated Press "Wash. redistricting commission holds first meeting," January 18, 2011
  2. KAPS Radio, "2011 Washington Redistricting Commission", January 17, 2011
  3. The Corner, "WA 2011 redistricting officially underway", January 18, 2011
  4. Washington Secretary of State Blog "Redistricting soon to gear up," December 20, 2010
  5. The Seattle Times, "Gorton, Huff are GOP picks for redistricting panel", January 4, 2011
  6. From our corner "Back to the future for Slade and redistricting," January 4, 2011
  7. State Redistricting Commission Site
  8. The Spokesman Review, "Lura Powell chosen to head Redistricting Commish", January 28, 2011
  9. Yakima-Herald "Redistricting panel needs member from east of the cascades," January 24, 2011
  10. Washington Secretary of State Blog, "Redistricting panel picks chair, girds for task ahead", January 28, 2011
  11. The Bellingham Herald, "Bonnie Bunning picked as Redistricting Commission director", February 25, 2011
  12. Washington Secretary of State, "What a difference a decade makes …", March 2, 2011
  13. The Spokesman Review, "All Washington congressional districts to shrink", February 23, 2011
  14. Seattle Times "Washington one of few Dem-leaning states to gain Congressional seat," December 21, 2010
  15. The Seattle Times, "Washington gains 830,000 residents, becomes 13th most populous state", December 21, 2010
  16. Seattle Weekly, "Fastest Growing Legislative Districts in Washington State Are Republican", January 4, 2011
  17. Bellingham Herald "Redistricting mix includes Olympia, Bellevue," December 22, 2010
  18. Seattle Times "8th District must shrink most in redistricting," December 22, 2010
  19. Swing State Project, "Redistricting in Georgia and Washington", January 3, 2011
  20. Yakima Herald, "How the 'Cascade Curtain' could open -- just a bit", December 31, 2010
  21. Kirkland Patch, "Redistricting Panel Member: Kirkland Could Be Part of New Congressional District", May 3, 2011
  22. News Tribune "Congressional district shuffle to begin in state," February 27, 2011
  23. Tri-City Herald, "Eastern Washington needs spot on redistricting panel", January 13, 2011
  24. Seattle Times "Washington's redistricting commission should include a member from east side of the state," January 10, 2011
  25. Yakima Herald "As redistricting nears, Washington is a state in flux," May 9, 2011
  26. Mercer Island Patch, "Mercer Island Likely to Remain 'Eastside' in Redistricting, Say Legislators", May 12, 2011
  27. Bellingham Herald "Redistricting bill draws questions," January 27, 2011
  28. Seattlest, "Redistricting, Carpetbagging, and a UFO", May 8, 2011
  29. Politico, "Dennis Kucinich might move left -- to Washington", May 4, 2011
  30. Seattle Times, "Thanks, Dennis, but no", May 6, 2011
  31. CBS News, "Kucinich plans to stay in Ohio for re-election," September 14, 2011
  32. Whidbey News-Times, "Redistricting commission to unveil draft plan Sept. 13," August 30, 2011
  33. The Columbian, "Progress made in redistricting," August 29, 2011
  34. Seattle Times, "Panel unveils redistricting maps," September 13, 2011
  35. Seattle PI, "Redistricting: And then there were two…," October 11, 2011
  36. The Columbian, "Redistricting commission ends comment period," October 12, 2011
  37. The Columbian, "Redistricting commission releases two possible realignment maps," October 14, 2011
  38. [The News Tribune, "Here are the incumbents who could be displaced by redistricting," October 14, 2011
  39. Crosscut, "Redistricting commission finally draws the lines," December 28, 2011
  40. The Columbian, "Redistricting commission finishes its work," January 1, 2012
  41. The Olympian, "Redistricting is headed to New Year's Day," December 31, 2011
  42. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Redistricting panel pushes deadline," December 31, 2011
  43. The Seattle Times, "Wash. redistricting panel struggles in final days," December 30, 2011
  44. The Bellingham Herald, "Redistricting unanimous but is it time for reform?," January 3, 2012
  45. The News Tribune, "Redistricting plan getting minor tweaks," January 29, 2012
  46. The Seattle Times, "Activists propose 'majority minority' congressional district for Washington", March 25, 2011
  47. Rainier Valley Post, "Activists Propose New ‘Majority Minority’ Congressional District for Rainier Valley & South Seattle Suburbs", March 29, 2011
  48. The Seattle Times, "Groups push for minority districts in Wash.," June 7, 2011
  49. Yakima Herald, "Advocates say new district will give Latinos a voice, opponents say system works fine", June 9, 2011
  50. The Daily Caller, "Illegal aliens set to tilt Yakima, Wash. election scales by being included in district headcounts", April 4, 2011
  51. MSNBC, "Yakima Sued for Voting Rights Act Violations", March 31, 2011
  52., "Yakima Sued for Voting Rights Act Violations", March 31, 2011
  53. Seattle Times, "Vancouver petitioner says not so fast on state's redistricting plan," February 8, 2012
  54. The Columbian, "Vancouver man challenges state's redistricting plan," February 2012
  55. KBKW, "Supreme Court Authorizes Redistricting Boundaries for 2012 Elections," March 15, 2012
  56. The Olympian, "Weigh in with your ideas on how to best shape the districts", May 22, 2011
  57. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”, accessed February 1, 2011