The 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 Commission’s Chair, Sarah Augustine, to file a sworn declaration by noon this coming Monday detailing what exactly happened at the commission’s deadline day meeting on Monday and the hours leading up to it.
The order, issued and signed by Chief Justice Steve Gonzalez, notes in its whereas clauses that it is unclear what exactly transpired three evenings ago and states that Augustine shall provide “a detailed timeline of the events of November 15, 2021, and November 16, 2021, relevant to the commission’s compliance with its obligations under article II, section 43 subsections (6) and (11) of the Washington State Constitution and RCW 44.05.100.”
“This should include,” the order adds, “the timing of any votes taken by the commission, exactly what each vote was regarding, and any other actions taken by the commission relevant to their constitutional and statutory obligations under article II, section 43 subsections (6) and 11 and RCW 44.05.100.”
The Court’s full order is below:Supreme Court’s November 18th order to the Redistricting Commission
Augustine is the nonvoting chair appointed by the four Democratic and Republican voting commissioners (April Sims, Brady Walkinshaw, Joe Fain, and Paul Graves) to preside over the commission’s proceedings and facilitate their work.
The aforementioned meeting, witnessed by our team at NPI along with many other politically attuned Washingtonians, was held electronically using Zoom and webcast through YouTube, TVW, and other platforms. Though it was supposed to be a public meeting, most of what transpired at the meeting transpired in private, including almost all of the negotiating between the commissioners.
Of the five hours on the meeting recording, less than forty minutes consisted of anything other than the cyber equivalent of dead air, as you can see from watching this edited version of the meeting that we put together:
Because it was clearly unprepared to take action by its constitutionally mandated November 15th deadline for agreeing to maps, the commission found itself backed into a corner as the 11:59:59 deadline rapidly approached.
With no maps ready to approve, the commissioners decided at the last minute to simply hold votes on the cartographic equivalent of vaporware.
But even that gambit failed.
By noon the next day, the Commission had belatedly conceded defeat… but not before sending this letter to the Legislature proclaiming it had succeeded:Redistricting Commission’s transmittal letter
Neither the letter nor any other materials were shown onscreen or available online to read as the Commission was hastily voting on its eleventh hour motions.
That left viewers, us included, wondering what the heck the commissioners were actually voting on. It seems the Supreme Court has those very same questions. And unlike the rest of us, they have the power to compel answers.
The Court sent a clear message to the commissioners with its order today: Explain yourselves. Give us a detailed accounting of what you were attempting to do and what the specific sequence of events was. Don’t bother with spin or excuses.
Though it did not have maps ready for even the commissioners to look at prior to Monday night’s vote, the Redistricting Commission has since published a set of PDFs and shapefiles that it has labeled its final work product.
Commissioners have suggested to the Court that it simply adopt those maps and rubber stamp their work. With its order today, the Court today indicated it will be doing its own work after it gets a full, transparent accounting of recent events.
The Commission may also be obligated to provide similar information in Thurston County Superior Court. That’s where activist Arthur West filed a lawsuit alleging that the Commission flagrantly violated the state’s open meetings law.
Read West’s complaint below.Redistricting suit by Arthur West
In related news, the Court’s Office of Communications & Public Outreach told NPI and other media outlets that it is in the process of setting up a Court-administered website for all redistricting updates. This is expected to be operational shortly. We should soon know more about how the Supreme Court intends to approach the task of drawing legislative and congressional maps. It’s the first time the job has fallen to the Court since the state adopted a commission model for redistricting.