Democrats and Republicans made their opening moves Tuesday in the once-a-decade redrawing of the state’s political boundaries, releasing competing maps for the state’s 49 legislative districts.
The proposals by the four voting members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission will serve as a starting point for negotiations as the bipartisan panel faces a Nov. 15 deadline to come up with final maps.
The opening salvos mixed partisan maneuvering with efforts to empower historically underrepresented communities — all constrained by population shifts that require some districts to shrink and others to expand.
The Republican maps, released by former state legislators Joe Fain and Paul Graves, seek to create many more competitive districts — a stance that makes political sense for the party in the minority in the state House and Senate.
The Democrats’ maps, from state labor council leader April Sims and former legislator Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, didn’t emphasize partisan competitiveness as a priority, saying their goals are fair representation and elevating communities of color.
Bickering over the initial plans began swiftly, with state Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski slamming the GOP plan as “gerrymandering” in a statement and arguing they “should go back to the drawing board and try producing maps that respect the law.”
State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich responded with his own statement, accusing Democrats of gerrymandering and describing their draft maps as “the definition of political hackery” aimed at keeping Democrats “in perpetual control.”
Graves said his map would nearly double the number of swing districts from six to 11, and released a spreadsheet calculating the Democrats’ proposals would cut the number of swing districts in the state to just three. “We want competition,” Graves said. “Democrats apparently do not.”
He based his tally of swing districts on areas where Republican and Democratic vote totals were within 3 percentage points in last year’s statewide elections.
Alex Bond, a spokesperson for the state Democrats, called that measure bogus, saying the party’s legislative candidates often lag behind the statewide votes, meaning the Graves plan would really create several new Republican-leaning districts.
Graves’ map also would draw 22 incumbents, mostly Democrats, out of their current districts — a move he defended. “To be perfectly frank this is a map for 7.7 million people not for the 147 who currently hold office [in the legislature],” he said.
His map would try to give Republicans a better shot in districts they’ve shed as Washington voters turned against a GOP defined by President Donald Trump.
For example, in King County, Graves’ proposal would try to make the 47th Legislative District more conservative by shifting it south and east to include Black Diamond and Maple Valley.
By contrast, Sims said her intent wasn’t to artificially maximize the number of swing districts for the two major political parties, but to “draw maps that reflect the political reality of our state” and “to lift up communities that are underrepresented.”
She pointed to her plan for the Yakama Nation, which honored its request to unify its reservation in central Washington by placing it entirely in a reshaped 15th Legislative District which would include the city of Yakima and be majority Hispanic. Sims also noted her proposal creates nine majority people of color legislative districts, including four in south King County.
Both her plan and Walkinshaw’s would make it tougher for some incumbent Republicans to seek reelection. For example, in the 42nd Legislative District of Whatcom County, they’d push state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who nearly lost in 2018, into facing more Democratic leaning voters in Bellingham.
Sims said her plan would draw 14 incumbents out of their current districts, divided nearly evenly among Democrats and Republicans.
There were some points of agreement, as Republicans and Democrats proposed different ways of keeping the Yakama reservation in a single district, and reducing the district splits in cities such as Bremerton and Everett.
Some of the new district proposals might be jarring for incumbents and voters. Graves’ for example, would drastically shift Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District, shedding its north Seattle neighborhoods and pulling it across Elliott Bay to include Bainbridge Island.
By law, the new political districts must be as equal in population as possible — about 157,000 people per district — and aren’t supposed to be gerrymandered to favor any party or discriminate against any group. They’re also supposed to avoid splitting up cities and other political subdivisions, where possible. The law also says maps should “provide fair and effective representation” and “encourage electoral competition.”
At least three of the commission’s four voting members must approve the new maps by Nov. 15. The Legislature can make only minor tweaks. If the commission were to fail to reach agreement, the state Supreme Court would be charged with drawing the new maps.
The maps will be in place for the 2022 midterm elections.
The commissioners are scheduled to release their proposals for the state’s 10 congressional districts on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
Sims said she looks forward to public testimony on the map proposals.
“The beauty of having a process where we release draft maps is it gives us folks an opportunity to give us feedback and daylight places where we might have a blind spot,” she said.