The state’s bipartisan redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline Monday for redrawing political maps, meaning the task will now be taken up by the state Supreme Court.
This is the first time the panel has failed to finish its work since the state adopted a constitutional amendment giving redistricting authority to a bipartisan commission after the 1990 census.
The panel had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. They voted hastily just before midnight but failed to publicly produce any maps.
“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 commission said in a statement Tuesday.
The commission members blamed the late release of census data combined with technical problems.
Officials for the redistricting commission did not immediately return telephone messages and emails from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The state Supreme Court said it was prepared to take on the job.
“If it is confirmed that the commission missed the Nov. 15th deadline ... the Supreme Court shall adopt a plan by April 30, 2022,” the court said. “The court will await filings from the parties.”
The commission’s work was quickly denounced by Redistricting Justice for Washington, which had been seeking a majority Hispanic legislative district in the agricultural Yakima Valley. That was likely a key point of contention on the commission, the group said.
“The Redistricting Commission not only failed to meet the statutory deadline, but it also declined to interact with the public during public meetings, limited accessibility in critical moments, and grossly disregarded transparency expectations,” said Yakima City Council member Dulce Gutierrez in a statement from the group.
The Supreme Court “must draw districts, particularly in Yakima, that respect the sovereignty of the Yakama Nation and create majority-minority districts that enable communities of color to elect the candidates of their choice,” Gutierrez said.
Under state law the Supreme Court will take over the job of drawing new political district maps. The high court has until the end of April to come up with 10 U.S. House districts and 49 state legislative districts that will be in place for the next decade, starting with the 2022 midterm elections.
Washington’s 2021 commission consisted of four voting members — two Democrats and two Republicans — appointed by legislative caucus leaders.
By law, at least three of the four had to agree on new political maps by Nov. 15.
Draft maps submitted by members of the commission in September suggested changes could be coming to Skagit County’s districts.
Congressional maps from both Democratic members of the commission placed the county entirely in Congressional District 2, which is represented by Rep. Rick Larsen.
A map from one of the Republicans included putting everyone east of Birdsview in District 8, and the map from the other Republican suggested moving Mount Vernon and Burlington to District 2, and Sedro-Woolley to District 1.
On the state legislative side, the drafts from two Democratic members would have pushed District 39 south into Snohomish County, and moved District 40 east to represent the eastern portions of Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Both maps would have expanded District 10 north to encompass Anacortes and San Juan County.
The maps from Republicans stuck closer to the status quo for Skagit County. Districts 10, 39 and 40 would have still represented the same regions, with some adjustments along the borders.
One of these maps extended District 42 south from Whatcom County to represent a rural section of Skagit County north of Sedro-Woolley.
After going into a scheduled public meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. Monday, the commissioners went into closed-door caucuses, which drew criticism.
“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,” said Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young in a tweet.
The Washington Coalition for Open Government denounced the secretiveness of the commission’s process.
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” said executive director Juli Bunting. “Our beef is the fact they shut the public out.”