In redistricting, the shape of a district is everything. The boundaries of an electoral district determine the number of votes in that district—and more specifically, the fortunes of a particular party and its candidates. Changing the shape of a district can make a traditionally Republican stronghold Democratic or a previously Democratic district Republican, which, in turn, can dramatically alter the balance of power in the Legislature. In some cases, redistricting may mean that an incumbent legislator will effectively be voted out of his or her district in the next election year. It is understandable, then, that members of the Legislature would be deeply concerned about the redistricting process.
In the course of Washington's political history, some critics have argued that redistricting is too partisan a process to leave to the Legislature. Those district boundaries that matter so much to legislators are also important to voters. For example, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, urban residents were significantly underrepresented because of population shifts throughout the state. Considering some of the traditional voting blocs in cities—like minority groups and labor—the implications of such a voting disparity were troubling. Was it fair that legislators had complete control of a decision that so greatly affected each citizen's right to representation? Wouldn't it be better if a more neutral body, like the court, handled redistricting?
But from the perspective of the Legislature, additional factors had to be considered. Legislators were elected to represent the people as stewards of the state. Shouldn't they also be trusted to redistrict as fairly as they could? Another argument was that redistricting was (and is) a complicated and precise procedure, requiring an incredibly detailed knowledge of the electoral makeup of the state, individual districts, and even precincts. Legislators were uniquely qualified to meet these challenges for didn't they, better than anyone, know their own constituencies?
The essential question of redistricting then becomes: who is best qualified to redistrict? The voters? The Legislature? The courts? In the course of nearly forty years of struggle, Washington has tried several different approaches. Find out how the state finally reached its current redistricting process as you explore SHIFTING BOUNDARIES: REDISTRICTING IN WASHINGTON.
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