The 2021 Redistricting Commission's stall screen
The 2021 Redistricting Commission's stall screen

Last night at 11:59:59 PM Pacif­ic was the Wash­ing­ton State Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion’s statu­to­ry and con­sti­tu­tion­al dead­line to agree on a new set of leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps for the Ever­green State.

The Com­mis­sion, a bipar­ti­san body of four mem­bers formed every ten years for redis­trict­ing pur­pos­es, sched­uled a meet­ing for 7 PM Pacif­ic with the osten­si­ble pur­pose of fin­ish­ing its work and send­ing the Leg­is­la­ture a set of maps.

This cycle’s com­mis­sion­ers are Brady Walkin­shaw (cho­sen by the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus), April Sims (cho­sen by the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus), Joe Fain (cho­sen by the Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus), Paul Graves (cho­sen by the House Repub­li­can cau­cus) and Sarah Augus­tine (cho­sen by Walkin­shaw, Sims, Graves, and Fain to be their non­par­ti­san, non­vot­ing chair and facilitator.)

Jour­nal­ists, activists, and observers eager­ly tuned in to the elec­tron­ic 7 PM meet­ing being broad­cast on TVW and YouTube, expect­ing to see the com­mis­sion­ers final­ly hud­dle in pub­lic and attempt to fin­ish up their work.

But instead, what view­ers saw for the vast major­i­ty of near­ly five hours was a “Meet­ing on Break” mes­sage, with com­mis­sion staff claim­ing to reporters like Cross­cut’s Melis­sa San­tos that the com­mis­sion­ers were meet­ing in “cau­cus dyads” — par­ti­san (Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can) groups of two.

As the hours went by with noth­ing but occa­sion­al cameos from the staff and com­mis­sion­ers, it became appar­ent that the Com­mis­sion would not fin­ish its work before the eleventh hour, and pos­si­bly not at all. By 11:30 PM, the com­mis­sion­ers had still not begun any mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion in pub­lic on any set of proposals.

With a few min­utes left to go before mid­night, the com­mis­sion­ers belat­ed­ly appeared togeth­er onscreen once more, with non­vot­ing Chair Sarah Augus­tine ask­ing them if they want­ed to “com­mence” discussions.

An almost non­sen­si­cal exchange then ensued, fol­lowed by yet anoth­er “cau­cus dyad” break, fol­lowed by a chaot­ic final few min­utes in which Augus­tine quick­ly enter­tained a set of motions that com­mis­sion­ers unan­i­mous­ly approved.

Two of the motions were to sup­pos­ed­ly adopt new leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al dis­trict maps — phan­tom leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps, that is.

I say “phan­tom” because it was evi­dent that no nego­ti­at­ed final maps exist­ed for the com­mis­sion­ers to con­sid­er or approve, not even in dig­i­tal form.

The com­mis­sion­ers sug­gest­ed their final maps would be ready by some­time this morn­ing, well after the dead­line had passed, per­haps by “sun­rise.”

The oth­er motions adopt­ed by the com­mis­sion­ers around mid­night were to approve a res­o­lu­tion and let­ter of trans­mit­tal, pre­sum­ably to the Legislature.

No doc­u­ments were shown onscreen pri­or to or dur­ing the votes, and no doc­u­ments were post­ed by the com­mis­sion imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the meeting.

No dis­cus­sion fol­lowed the votes, either. Instead, Augus­tine abrupt­ly adjourned the meet­ing, leav­ing peo­ple won­der­ing what had just happened.

As of press time, there were still no maps or doc­u­ments avail­able from the meet­ing on the com­mis­sion’s offi­cial website.

The Com­mis­sion had, in antic­i­pa­tion of fin­ish­ing its work on time, sched­uled a media avail­abil­i­ty for 10 AM this morn­ing to take reporters’ questions.

But at 9:41 AM today, com­mis­sion staff announced that the event had been can­celled and advised: “A state­ment from the Com­mis­sion is forthcoming.”

It seems at this point that the Com­mis­sion has failed to pro­duce a map that at least three com­mis­sion­ers have agreed to as the Con­sti­tu­tion requires.

If so, then the job of draw­ing new leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps for Wash­ing­ton State will fall to the State Supreme Court:

(6) The com­mis­sion shall com­plete redis­trict­ing as soon as pos­si­ble fol­low­ing the fed­er­al decen­ni­al cen­sus, but no lat­er than Novem­ber 15th of each year end­ing in one. At least three of the vot­ing mem­bers shall approve such a redis­trict­ing plan. If three of the vot­ing mem­bers of the com­mis­sion fail to approve a plan with­in the time lim­i­ta­tions pro­vid­ed in this sub­sec­tion, the supreme court shall adopt a plan by April 30th of the year end­ing in two in con­for­mance with the stan­dards set forth in sub­sec­tion (5) of this section.

– Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 43, Wash­ing­ton State Constitution

High­light­ed empha­sis is mine.

As men­tioned, most of the Com­mis­sion’s five hour meet­ing was just the cyber equiv­a­lent of dead air. NPI edit­ed the meet­ing footage down to just the parts where com­mis­sion­ers or staff were talk­ing or about to talk, and clocked that por­tion of the event at just under forty minutes.

If you’d like to watch the meet­ing in its entire­ty with­out hav­ing to jump around to find those parts, we’ve cre­at­ed a record­ing for you:

The com­mis­sion­ers’ fail­ure to do any mean­ing­ful work in pub­lic, espe­cial­ly at the end of the process, prompt­ed many observers to won­der whether the Com­mis­sion vio­lat­ed the state’s open meet­ing laws.

The Leg­is­la­ture should pass new rules for the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion,” tweet­ed Pierce Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber Derek Young short­ly before the com­mis­sion abrupt­ly adjourned. “At this point the only way they could adopt maps is with zero trans­paren­cy. I can only assume they’re stat­ing posi­tions to build a record for the courts know­ing the dead­line is blown.”

If a local gov­ern­ment did any­thing like this the Leg­is­la­ture would spend months scold­ing every city and coun­ty across the state for months.”

“This is a com­plete joke,” Young added. 

Because the Supreme Court has orig­i­nal juris­dic­tion to hear all cas­es involv­ing leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al redis­trict­ing, the Court would also be the venue for any law­suits alleg­ing that the Com­mis­sion vio­lat­ed the state’s open meet­ing laws.

Pre­sum­ing it gets the job of draw­ing new bound­aries for the first time in state his­to­ry, the Court will have anoth­er few months to cre­ate maps.

The Court’s con­sti­tu­tion­al dead­line, as not­ed in the above excerpt, is April 30th, 2022, well after the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture will have adjourned its even-num­bered year short ses­sion. The Con­sti­tu­tion does not give the Leg­is­la­ture an oppor­tu­ni­ty to review or change maps drawn by the Supreme Court. So what­ev­er the Court decides on will be what the state uses for the next ten years.

This post will be updat­ed when the Com­mis­sion’s state­ment is available.

10:56 AM UPDATE: The Com­mis­sion has admit­ted that it failed.

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 late release of the 2020 cen­sus data com­bined with tech­ni­cal chal­lenges ham­pered the com­mis­sion’s work considerably.

Pur­suant to RCW 44.05.100, the Supreme Court now has juris­dic­tion to adopt a dis­trict­ing plan.

The com­mis­sion­ers have every faith that the Supreme Court will draw maps that are fair and wor­thy of the peo­ple of Washington.

Still unex­plained is why the Com­mis­sion did­n’t just admit last night that they had run out of time. Why were votes held on maps that did not exist and that no one had seen? It appears that no answers may be imme­di­ate­ly forthcoming.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Did the 2021 Washington State Redistricting Commission fail? Deadline day meeting ends with rushed, last second votes and no maps”

  1. Elec­tions are a shame. Redis­trict­ing is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive now. How is it I live 10 min­utes from Red­mond but I’m now lumped in with Wenatchee and Chelan, 200 miles away.

    1. The Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion’s work prod­uct won’t be the final maps, owing to their inabil­i­ty to fin­ish on time. So hang tight! You may not end up in that weird 12th Dis­trict in the end.

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