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The 1970s: 1972

The Master at Work

As the 1972 special session opened, legislators were under pressure to pass a redistricting bill as mandated by the courts. House and Senate leadership initially gave themselves two weeks to agree on a plan, vowing to give no other bill final approval during this period while they focused on a redistricting solution. Bipartisan committees met daily to hammer out contentious boundaries, and legislators stayed late into the night poring over district maps and precinct voting records. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to produce an acceptable compromise, and the self-imposed deadline passed with no action. The threat of a new redistricting initiative proposed by labor groups also failed to push the legislators closer to settlement. Despite frantic last-minute maneuvering, partisan divisions could not be bridged.

On February 26, 1972, as promised, the three-judge panel named a special "master" to draw new legislative and congressional boundaries for the state. Richard C. Morrill, a University of Washington professor of geography, was chosen from a list of more than a dozen proposed candidates. The Court ordered Morrill to divide the state into 49 legislative districts of roughly equal population, as well seven congressional districts, following the boundaries of county, city, and census tracts rather than voting precincts. He was asked not to make use of past elections returns or to have any contact with political partisans. Morrill completed the task in the allotted one month.

Labor groups, Indian tribes, and other interest groups tried to stop acceptance of Morrill's work, even appealing to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to intervene. But in April 1972 the Court adopted the Morrill plan as submitted, changing only the district numbering system. They also mandated that the 1972 elections be held using the newly drawn boundaries. Legislators who had worked so long to negotiate their own redistricting proposals had mixed reactions, recognizing the future implications of the action. As one headline in the Daily Olympian proclaimed, "Gorton Blesses Redistricting as Greive Grieves" (April 23, 1972:1


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