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Redistricting: Balancing geography with numbers

People want to keep districts from being split by bodies of water and mountains. They want to see a new 10th Congressional District on the Eastside, or the south Puget Sound. Or anywhere but the Puget Sound area.

Needless to say, the Washington state Redistricting Commission has its work cut out.

The five-person body made a stop in Bellevue on Tuesday night, the fifth of 17 visits the group will make around the state. The members are getting the public’s thoughts on the impending changes that will come to Washington’s congressional and legislative districts prior to beginning the process of carving out new maps.

“We want to know where and what the communities of interest are around the state,” said the commission’s chair, Lura Powell.

Population growth around the state has earned Washington the right to have a 10th congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That same growth means legislative districts will be redrawn, too.

The Eastside serves as a particularly perplexing problem. Some of the greatest growth occurred east of Seattle in the last 10 years. And many of these cities  are split across a number of district lines. Bellevue straddles the 41st and 48th districts; Kirkland, the 45th and 48th; and Issaquah, the 5th, 41st and 48th. Mercer Island is centered in the 41st District

One of the primary messages from the residents at Tuesday’s forum, held at the Bellevue Red Lion hotel, was the need to create districts that represent cities.

“There are communities there, and people are tied to those communities,” said Dave Griffin, a resident in the 45th District. “Some cohesive thought is needed there.”

The public meetings will give the five members, only four of whom vote on the boundaries, a basis to begin drawing up draft maps. The four members are former U.S. Sen. Slade Gordon, former Deputy Mayor of Seattle Tim Ceis, former Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives Dean Foster and founder of the Washington Retail Association, Tom Huff.

The plan, Powell said, is to have a complete draft available in September for further public comment. The body hopes to be done with the process prior to Jan. 1, 2012.

In addition to the meetings, the public can get involved with the process in other ways. The commission accepts maps drawn by individuals to show their opinions on the district changes. Starting June 15, the commission’s Web site will feature an interactive map that citizens can use to redraw boundaries.

On the Eastside, a number of districts are likely to see changes. The 8th Congressional District encompasses nearly all of the Eastside. The 41st district, represented by Rep. Dave Reichert, is the largest in the state, with more than 810,000 residents, and the fastest growing with 24 percent more inhabitants since the 2000 census. It will have to “lose” nearly 140,000 residents in the process. Within that area, the 41st District (South Bellevue and Mercer Island) needs to lose nearly 5,500 residents. The 48th District, just north of the 41st, is approximately 6,800 residents short of the 137,235 population that the state would like within each district. The 5th (Issaquah, Sammamish) is likely to wbe greatly altered. It has an excess of 25,000 residents, with much of the cities split among several districts.

Find out more

Do you have an idea about how the Congressional districts should be drawn on the Eastside?

To send your ideas and for more information about the redistricting process and upcoming meetings with the commission, go to www.redistricting.wa.gov.

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