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.
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.
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.
[…] Washington State Supreme Court this evening formally responded to the news that the 2021 Washington State Redistricting Commission had failed in its efforts to draw new legislative and congressional maps for the Evergreen State, directing the […]