The failed promise of independent election mapmaking

The failed promise of independent election mapmaking

by Marilyn W. Thompson

ProPublica

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Washington state’s mapmakers had been working for almost a year to draw the lines that would shape the state’s elections for the next decade. Now they had five hours until the midnight deadline and they’d made little progress.

Promptly at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15, 2021, the five members of the state’s Redistricting Commission appeared in a public Zoom meeting. Chair Sarah Augustine, a nonvoting member, sat near an ice machine in front of a backdrop with the commission’s new logo, “Draw Your WA.” She called the roll and ratified the minutes. The commissioners appeared on screens, seemingly calling in from different locations. Augustine immediately announced that they wanted to caucus privately. She promised that staff would reappear about every 30 minutes to give updates. A sign announcing “Meeting on Break” flashed up.

In most states, lawmakers draw new districts every 10 years to accommodate changes in population and ethnic makeup. They’re usually exercises of raw political power allowing lawmakers to, in essence, choose their voters instead of the other way around. But in Washington, an independent panel of commissioners has long revised the maps to avoid the common pitfalls of such redistricting, which often disenfranchises people of color or results in gerrymandering.

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