Redistricting plan meets voters’ bipartisan wishes

The state’s redistricting commission achieved a big bipartisan moment on Jan. 1. The commission was a bit late, but voters’ expectations of fairness were finally fulfilled.

Washington voters amended the state’s constitution in 1983 to have a bipartisan commission redraw districts for the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation. Until then, the job of making changes after each federal census had fallen to the Legislature, where fair play sometimes gave way to cheap political tricks.

The redistricting commission, working with population changes from the 2000 census, approved a well-received legislative redistricting plan on the night of Dec. 15-16. The commission’s work on the legislative plan stretched past a midnight Dec. 15 deadline and the commission failed to approve any congressional plan until Tuesday, more than two weeks late.

Under the constitutional amendment, the Supreme Court steps in if the redistricting commission fails to produce a plan. Despite the commission’s missed deadlines, the state Supreme Court or the Legislature should accept both the legislative and the congressional redistricting plans.

The commission fulfilled the people’s overall expectation of a balanced plan. And the commission actually met a Jan. 1 deadline set in the constitution. The problem is that the Legislature had ordered action by Dec. 15. The Legislature’s deadline is not a trivial matter. It is much less important, however, than the constitutional date or the substance of the redistricting plans.

The just-completed congressional plan appears carefully drawn. It makes minimal changes. Everett remains a key part of the 2nd Congressional District. The 1st Congressional District moves north somewhat, roughly to Everett’s south city limits. A look at the entire plan shows a state with cohesive districts, not the odd shapes in many states that allow legislatures to gerrymander to their hearts’ content.

The results show the wisdom of U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks and Jennifer Dunn in issuing a bipartisan call for the commission to continue its work after Dec. 15. Members of the state’s congressional delegation are drafting a letter asking state Attorney General Christine Gregoire to urge the state Supreme Court to accept the plan.

Court action is a viable alternative. It might be even quicker, though, for the Legislature to retroactively amend its Dec. 15 deadline to the constitutional one of Jan. 1. The redistricting commission has met the public’s hopes for bipartisanship. The court and the Legislature should be supportive — and grateful for a job done late but well.

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