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Redistricting - Frequently Asked Questions

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What are districts?

Districts are subsections of a state and sometimes a county. Residents of each district vote for representatives in the State Legislature and Congress. Legislators and members of Congress represent their specific districts, not the whole state.

The President, Vice President, United States Senators, the Governor, and the eight other state officers and Supreme Court justices are not elected by district. For these statewide offices, the state is considered one district.

What is redistricting?

Redistricting changes the boundaries of districts to reflect the change in population. The purpose is to make every district approximately equal in population, so that everyone’s vote carries the same weight.

Every 10 years, legislative and congressional district boundaries are adjusted using new U.S. Census Bureau data.

What is reapportionment?

Reapportionment occurs every 10 years to reallocate congressional seats among the 50 states in order to reflect population changes since the last census. The United States Constitution establishes 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each state receives at least one congressional seat and the remaining 385 are apportioned according to population. For example, the 2000 Census indicated that Washington had a large enough population to have nine congressional seats. The ninth congressional district, consisting of King, Thurston, and Pierce counties, was added after the 1990 census. The eighth congressional district, consisting of King and Pierce counties, was added after the 1980 census.

On December 21, 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Washington is receiving a 10th seat in Congress. This new district will take effect in the 2012 election cycle.

Why do we have to redistrict?

Redistricting is done to ensure every Washington citizen is represented fairly in the Legislature and Congress. The U.S. and state constitutions require that each congressional and legislative district be represented by an equal number of people; this assures a fair distribution of political power. Births, deaths and migration contribute to statewide and district population shifts from one decennial census to the next. Redistricting adjusts political boundaries to reflect these changes.

What is the decennial census?

The U.S. Census is actually made up of two censuses taken at the same time. The Census of Population counts number of people and selected social and economic characteristics. The Census of Housing counts numbers of residential units and selected physical and financial characteristics.

The purpose of the U.S. Census is reapportionment, redistricting, and determining the allocation of government services.

Who is in charge of redistricting in Washington?

The Washington State Redistricting Commission is the bipartisan commission charged with preparing a legislative and congressional district plan after each U.S. Census. The five-member Commission submits a redistricting plan to the Legislature, and upon approval the new districts will be used beginning with the 2012 congressional and legislative elections.

Has Washington always redistricted by commission?

No, the Legislature established the boundaries of Washington’s election districts until 1980. In 1983, the voters of the state approved a constitutional amendment that established the independent Redistricting Commission. Legislative and congressional redistricting by commission was first done in 1991 and again in 2001.

How are the commissioners appointed and who may serve?

Each House and Senate caucus leader appoints one voting member to the commission in January 2011. The four commission members, two Democrats and two Republicans, then appoint the nonvoting commission chairperson.

A commissioner may be any registered state voter who is not a current registered lobbyist or former lobbyist within one year before appointment. A commissioner cannot be a current elected official, or an elected state, district, or county party official, or have held such a position for two years prior to the appointment.

Commissioners may not campaign for elective office or actively participate in or contribute to a state or federal candidate running for office. A commission member must refrain from holding or campaigning for a state legislative office or for Congress for two years after the effective date of the plan.

In January 2011, the four caucuses of the Legislature appointed the following individuals as commissioners:

Senate Republican Caucus: Slade Gorton
Senate Democratic Caucus: Tim Ceis
House Republican Caucus: Tom Huff
House Democratic Caucus: Dean Foster

How does the Commission adopt a redistricting plan? Can the plan be changed by the Legislature or vetoed by the Governor?

A redistricting plan must be approved by at least three of the four voting Commission members. This plan becomes final unless it is amended by the Legislature within 30 days after the beginning of the next regular or special session.

A legislative amendment, however, can affect no more than 2 percent of a legislative district’s population and must be approved by two-thirds of the members of both the House and Senate. The Governor may not veto the redistricting plan. There is no final vote of approval on the redistricting plan, and it takes effect after the 30-day period elapses. If the commission fails to meet the submission deadline, the state Supreme Court must prepare a plan by April 30, 2012.