Frequently Asked Questions
How is the Commission collecting public input for the 2011 redistricting process?
The Commission is asking for public comment in several ways. From May to August 2011, we hosted 18 public forums statewide to listen to the public’s ideas and proposals for district boundaries. Washington’s non-profit public affairs television network, TVW, webcast 17 of the forums live to enable people anywhere in the state to participate. You can view the forums by visiting the Commission’s website at www.redistricting.wa.gov and clicking on the “Get Involved’ tab.
At all our forums, we invited people and groups to draw and submit their own redistricting plans (also called “third-party” plans). The deadline for third-party plans was Aug. 15. People had the option of submitting their plans over the Internet or on paper through our free “Do It Yourself” map kit.
While the commissioners’ concentration shifted in August to drafting maps and pressing forward to a final product, we encourage public comment to continue throughout the process. The commissioners’ individual draft proposals were unveiled on Sept. 13 at their regularly scheduled commission meeting.
The commissioners’ drafts plans are posted on our website, where the public was able to study them and submit comments. Public input on the first round of drafts wrapped up with a meeting in Olympia on October 11. The meeting was webcast and broadcast on TV so those unable to be in Olympia could participate from anywhere in the state.
After Oct. 11, the commissioners will meet as often as needed to hammer out a final plan for congressional and legislative districts. Their meetings will be open to the public and announced at least 24 hours in advance. The Commissioners have set a goal of November to agree on a final plan, providing time to correct minor errors before the Constitutional deadline for submitting the plans to the Legislature on January 1, 2012.
What have people told the Commissioners so far?
From May through August, we received more than 170 written comments by email, postal mail and comment forms. This is in addition to all the comments given by attendees of the public forums. We mailed 38 do-it-yourself map kits and received 20 third-party plans by the August 15 deadline. In all, about 1,000 people attended the forums. Attendance ranged from 25 people to more than 160, and averaged about 50.
A large number of comments received focused on what is termed a “community of interest.” The State Constitution and statutes require that more than half a dozen criteria be simultaneously met, including keeping such communities together in districts, as much as possible. Communities of interest are groups of people defined by geography, transportation and commerce, common issues, local economies, and political boundaries such as counties, cities, port and school districts or voting precincts.
How can I be involved as the process moves forward?
We hope that you’ll keep tuned in to the redistricting process through its entirety. Sign up for our email updates (LISTSERV®) or follow us on Twitter or Facebook for up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening. We’ll post the commissioners’ draft proposed plans to our website with a link that enables you to submit comments about the plans.
How can I know what the Commissioners are doing?
Through our website, emails, and public announcements, we’ll let you know how the redistricting process is going. If you’d rather see the proceedings in person, the commission meetings are open to the public. We’ll announce them at least 24 hours before they take place. Sign up for LISTSERV® or Facebook to find out about meeting notices.
How are you keeping people informed about the redistricting process?
Advances in technology enable more public participation than ever before in the redistricting process. Our website has up-to-date information about meetings, public forums, opportunities for public input, and the latest on commissioner redistricting plans. The website also includes links to sign up to be on the Commission’s LISTSERV® and to follow the commission on Facebook and Twitter., In addition, we regularly work with traditional media statewide so they have the information they need to cover redistricting events for you—their readers, viewers, and listeners.
What is the role of the non-partisan, non-voting chair?
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Washington’s Redistricting Commission is the position of the non-partisan, non-voting chairperson. Most states that redistrict by commission appoint chairs or co-chairs that have a vote and therefore become a tie breaker when there is a stalemate. In those states, there is always a winning and a losing side in the redistricting debate.
The Washington chairperson, who is non-partisan, serves the vital role of facilitator who helps steer the discussions toward final agreement. She helps establish the common ground where at least three of four commissioners can agree to pass a truly bi-partisan plan for Washington State.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process of changing boundaries of voting districts so that all districts have the same number of people and keep groups together that have minority interests in government. This is how we make sure that everyone has equal representation in government.
As states and communities grow and change, peoples’ representation in government begins to get out of balance. Redistricting brings everything back into balance to make sure that every Washingtonian is represented fairly in the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress. The U.S. and state constitutions require that each congressional and legislative district represent roughly equal numbers of people and keep groups who have common minority interests together to make sure political power is fairly distributed.
Has Washington always had a Redistricting Commission?
No. Until 1983, the state Legislature was in charge of redrawing the boundaries of Washington’s legislative and Congressional voting districts. But it was not a fair process, so the voters of the state approved a constitutional amendment to give redistricting authority to an independent Redistricting Commission. The first time the Redistricting Commission redrew voting district boundaries was in 1991.
How are the commissioners appointed and who may serve?
Every 10 years, following completion of the U.S. Census, the Redistricting Commission is formed. The commission has five members: two from each of the majority party caucuses (this year, two Democrats and two Republicans), and a non-partisan, non-voting Chair.
Each House and Senate caucus leader appoints one voting member to the commission in January. The four commission members, in turn, appoint a non-voting commission chairperson. A commissioner may be any registered state voter who meets the following requirements:
- Is not a current registered lobbyist, or former lobbyist within one year before appointment
- Is not a current elected official or an elected state, district, or county party official
- Has not held such a position for two years prior to appointment
- Will not campaign for elective office or actively participate in or contribute to a state or federal candidate running for office
- Will not campaign for a state legislative office or for Congress for two years after the new redistricting plan takes effect.
The 2011 redistricting project is the third time the Commission has formed for this task. The Commission is dissolved when the redistricting is done.
How many people will be in each district?
The number of people allocated to each district is based on the 2010 Census. The census counted 6.7 million people living in Washington. Divided into 49 legislative districts, this means each legislative district must, as nearly as can be done (or is “practicable”) have 137,235 people. Divided into ten Congressional districts, this means each Congressional district must have 672,454 people.
In the last round of redistricting (2001) the Congressional districts varied by only four people, at the most. In the final legislative redistricting plan the largest variation was 179 people.
State and federal law tells us how the redrawing of voting district boundaries must happen. Legislative and Congressional voting district boundaries must be drawn to:
- Encompass, as nearly as can be done (or is “practicable”) equal numbers of people.
- Comply with the Voting Rights Act to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
- Make sure that parts of a district are not physically separated.
- Make sure that, to the extent possible, boundaries of cities, counties, neighborhoods and communities that have common interests are respected, and their division minimized.
- Make sure they do not favor or discriminate against any incumbent, candidate, or political party.
What is reapportionment?
Reapportionment happens every 10 years to adjust congressional seats among the 50 states so everyone is fairly represented in the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Constitution requires that the U.S. House of Representatives have 435 seats divided between all 50 states. Each state receives at least one congressional seat. The remaining 385 are divided, or “apportioned” according to population. As the population of some states grows faster than that of others, congressional seats move from the slow-growing states to the fast-growing ones.
The 2010 Census counted just over 6.7 million people living in Washington. With our significant growth, Washington will have a 10th congressional seat. The Redistricting Commission must draw the voting boundaries for this new congressional district.
How does the Commission adopt a redistricting plan? Can the plan be changed by the Legislature or vetoed by the Governor?
A redistricting plan must be approved by three of the four voting Commission members. This plan becomes final unless it is amended by the Legislature within 30 days after the beginning of the next regular or special legislative session.
By law, if the Legislature wants to change the plan approved by the Redistricting Commission, any new district boundary lines they propose can affect no more than 2 percent of a district’s population and must be approved by two-thirds of the members of each legislative chamber. The Governor may not veto the Commission’s redistricting plan. There is no final vote of approval on the redistricting plan, and it takes effect 30 days after the legislative session begins. If the Redistricting Commission fails to meet the deadline for submitting a redistricting plan—January 1, 2012—the state Supreme Court must prepare a plan by March 1, 2012.
Why is the data from the U.S. Census used for redistricting in Washington State?
Census data is the most reliable information we have about population changes in the state. The U.S. Constitution also requires that the data come from the U.S. Census Bureau so that all the states are using information from the same source.
What laws address legislative and congressional redistricting?
- U.S. Constitution - Article I, Section 2
- State Constitution - Article II, Section 43
- Amendment to State Constitution
- Adopted by voters in 1983
- State Legislation - 44.05 RCW (redistricting law)
How has redistricting changed over the years?
How can I get involved in redistricting?
- Send us your comments and insights about your community and what makes it whole.
- Send us your idea of how voting district boundaries should be drawn in your community or throughout the state.
- Participate in a public forum. Visit our website to find out where and when. You can also participate via webcast.
- Host a webcast in your community and invite your neighbors to participate with you.