I recently spent several weeks reporting an article on redistricting for Yes! Magazine. It focused on strategies embraced by marginalized communities and advocates of fair districting to assure that gerrymandering wouldn’t make the votes of these communities worthless.
This happens when districts are mapped in a way to minimize the power of certain blocks of voters. Common techniques are known as packing and cracking. In the first, like minded voters are packed into one district to dilute their impact elsewhere. In the second scheme, these voters are split into multiple districts as another way to dilute their voting power.
As a journalist, I’m used to being observer. I wrote about gerrymandering going on elsewhere in the country. Now this story has hit home.
I live on Bainbridge Island. The maps proposed by the two Republican members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission would take my reliably blue island and pack it over to Seattle. This would give Kitsap County Republicans a better chance of gaining more seats in the state legislature.
I moved here from the Washington, D.C., area to be close to Seattle. I love the city. It’s fun to take the ferry and go out to eat and see friends in Queen Anne and Magnolia. But I don’t want to vote with them. That’s what the map drawn by Republican commission member Joe Fain would do. His map slices Bainbridge off from Kitsap County and leaps over the water to attach it to the 36th District of Queen Anne and Magnolia.
The other Republican commission member, Paul Graves, proposed a map that would place Bainbridge Island in West Seattle’s 34thDistrict. That’s an even greater leap for me. (Although I guess Bainbridge has something in common with West Seattle since its bridge woes made it an accidental island.)
At present, Bainbridge Island is in Kitsap County’s 23rd District, which includes Poulsbo, Kingston, Bremerton and Silverdale. Our incumbents are State Sen. Christine Rolfes and State Reps. Drew Hansen and Tara Simmons. All Democrats. They pay attention to Bainbridge, routinely appearing at local events and listening to the voters here. There would be little incentive for lawmakers elected in the 36th District or 43rd District to travel to our island and learn about our concerns. They don’t need our votes to get elected. They already have reliably safe Democratic districts.
Democratic commission members April Sims and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw proposed maps that would keep Bainbridge Island in the 23rd District along with Silverdale and all of North Kitsap.
Kitsap County is a mixed electoral bag. In the 2020 presidential election, 90,277 voters cast ballots for Joe Biden and 61,563 for Donald Trump. In the congressional race, incumbent Derek Kilmer defeated his Republican challenger by close to the same margin, and Jay Inslee also triumphed by roughly the same margin.
But in legislative races, while Democrats carried the two seats in the 23rd District, Republicans won the four other districts that include Kitsap County. Those Republicans would love to make it a sweep by mapping Bainbridge Island out of the county.
While this is blatant political gerrymandering, it is not racially motivated like the redistricting controversies I wrote about in states with a history of racial discrimination. We aren’t seeing district lines drawn through the middle of college campuses like in some Southern states, or voters of color packed densely into one district to prevent them from exerting broader electoral influence. Think Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and others no longer subject to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2013 Shelby v. Holder ruling.
Redistricting happens across the country every 10 years. Each cycle, Census data is used to draw the maps that allocate political power and representation for the next 10 years at every level of government, from Congress to state legislatures to some city councils. In most states, the maps are drawn by state legislators. In others, like Washington, some form of commission makes the maps. The National Conference of State Legislatures tracks what each state does and has good information on the overall process.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission consists of four voting members, two Democrats and two Republicans, picked by their respective caucuses in the state House and Senate. A fifth nonvoting chairperson is picked by the four voting members. Gov. Jay Inslee, who lives on Bainbridge Island, has no authority over the map drawers. The commission released its proposed legislative maps on Sept. 21 and its Congressional maps this week. It is accepting public comment (consider this column my comment). The commission has until Nov. 15 to get at least three of the four members to agree to new maps. As Post Alley writer Paul Query pointed out in his recent article about the proposed maps, “The next few weeks will feature extensive bargaining and horse-trading as commissioners work to find a map that at least three of them can live with. It’ll be interesting to see who gets left out in the cold.”
The Commission’s website states that it “must draw the district lines in conformity with strict, nonpartisan rules designed to create districts of relatively equal population that will provide fair representation for all Washingtonians.”
Picking up Bainbridge Island and floating it over to Queen Anne or West Seattle will not provide fair representation to me and my neighbors.