In response to John Milem's lawsuit challenging the legality of this year's redistricting maps link I decided to overhaul my redistricting plans to adhere to state Constitution link, principally Article II Section 43, and state laws, principally RCW 44.05.090 link, with regards to redistricting. They state that lines should be drawn so as to (1) coincide with the boundaries of local political subdivisions and areas recognized as communities of interest; (2) make the number of counties and municipalities divided among more than one district as small as possible; (3) be convenient, contiguous (connected by transportation), and compact territory; and (4) provide fair and effective representation, encourage electoral competition, and not drawn to purposely favor of any political party or group.
In Milem's petition link includes his proposed redistricting plans (Appendix 6, pages 49-64). While I agree with much of his brief, I'll post my updated plan with rationale. Chief among my disagreements with Milem is that I feel that racial minorities should be categorized as "communities of interest", thus I found it worthwhile to draw majority-minority districts, and how much importance to put upon dividing counties.
First, lets review the map created by the Washington Redistricting Commission and a chart of its electoral performance.
If you care about following state law or in having competitive elections, the Redistricting Commission's plan is very cynical. Its essentially a 5-4-1 incumbent protection map with 5 solidly Democratic districts, 4 solidly Republican districts, and 1 competitive district. And the 2012 election results bear that out with 9 races where the winner (including 2 open seats and 1 freshman Congresswoman) won with more than 58.5% of the vote. The other district, the completely reconfigured 1st Congressional District, was won by Democrat Suzan DelBene 54-46 who benefited from deep pockets and President Obama on the ticket.
In Milem's lawsuit, he accurately states that King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties are the only counties so large that they require that they be split. And, in accordance with the RCW, the redistricting plan should concentrate those splits in as few counties as possible. Thus, he and I try to concentrate the county splits in those 3 counties. Milem goes to great lengths to make it so that those are the only counties that are split.
Here is Milem's congressional district (CD) state map (including a spotlight on the Puget Sound region) and a chart of its electoral performance. (Note: I was able to achieve a very near exact duplication of his map using DRA. Also, I renumbered the CD's to coincide with current residences of members of Congress):
My principal complaint is that Milem put far too great of an emphasis on not splitting cities and counties, but little on communities of interest. I would include racial minorities under the definition of "communities of interest", but would also include similar urban, suburban, and rural communities. Beyond failing to create a majority-minority district, I have a problem with both CD 9 and 10 in his plan. His CD 9, to ensure counties aren't split, includes the highly urban city of Tacoma with far-flung, lowly populated areas on the Olympic Peninsula. While in his CD 10 goes all the way from Ferry County near Spokane to the San Juan Islands - their cultures are completely different. Also, I will add that his map seems to have a Republican bias. While not nearly as uncompetitive as the Washington Redistricting Commission's plan, it has 4 CD's where Rossi overperformed, i.e. beat the state average, by a wider margin in 2010 than the 2nd best Murray CD that year.
Alternatively, here is my new congressional district (CD) state map (Note: I, like most others, used Dave's Redistricting app to create this plan):
My philosophy was that avoiding county/city splits was only one of the canons to redistricting in Washington state and should be balanced with the others. Therefore, in pursuit of those other principles, I additionally split Cowlitz, Douglas and Yakima Counties, which is still a very small number. Also, while Milem did not split any cities, but to create a majority-minority CD I split Seattle (though rather cleanly), Yakima, and the small city of Coulee Dam, which straddles 3 counties.
I will discuss the individual Congressional Districts one-by-one. Using Dave's Redistricting App, the two races to judge by are the 2008 Presidential election and the 2010 Senatorial election between Patty Murray (D) and Dino Rossi (R). Obama won the nation by 52.9% to McCain's 45.7%, but in Washington state won 57.7% to 40.5%. In 2010, Patty Murray won re-election 52.4% to 47.6%. For some context, Patty Murray has averaged 55.8% of the vote in her 3 previous Senatorial elections. Thus, one could consider Obama's election in 2008 as a high point and Patty Murray's re-election in 2010 as a low point, though she's a popular incumbent with few (if any) negatives so she performed better than most Democrats statewide (see the Governor race in 2004).
Starting with the 1st CD - I tried to match the numbering with where the current incumbents reside - my version is shown here:
This CD contains all of San Juan, Whatcom, and Skagit Counties and suburban/rural regions of Snohomish County east of I-5 and I-405. The district has similar communities in the modest-sized towns of Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Marysville and suburban/rural areas. This CD would be a tossup district. This CD underperforms the rest of the state with Obama getting 56.0%, while Murray lost this district with 49.8%. In this district a Democratic candidate would be a marginal favorite in Presidential year elections, but a tossup in off-year elections. By comparison, the Commission's 1st CD, which is most similar to this district, is a Obama 56.2% and Murray 49.0%, therefore this is about a 1% safer district in off-years, but still very swingy.
Next, here is the map of my 2nd CD:
This CD contains all of Kitsap and Island Counties and the coastal region of Snohomish County west of I-5 and I-405. This district has similar urban-suburban communities all bordering the Puget Sound and with strong ties to national defense with naval bases in the Bremerton area and on Whidbey Island as well as the aerospace industry in the Everett area. It's a likely Democratic district with it slightly outperforming the state as a whole with Obama winning it 58.3% and Murray 53.7%. Only in very Republican year would there be a decent chance of it being won by Republicans. By comparison, the Commission's 2nd CD, which is most similar to this district, is a Obama 60.6% and Murray 55.3% district, thus this is clearly more of a swing district. Rick Larsen, the incumbent Democratic Congressman for the 2nd CD, would be relieved to be in a safer district after surviving a scare in 2010, but wouldn't be made nearly as safe as he was by the Redistricting Commission's plan.
Next, here is the map of my 3rd CD:
I chose to make my 3rd CD to be my lone trans-Cascade district. The 3rd CD contains all of Clark, Klickitat, and Skamania Counties and most of Cowlitz County (except the Castle Rock area) as well as all of Yakima Indian Reservation, Sunnyside, Grandview, and east Yakima in Yakima County. While splitting Yakima and Cowlitz Counties, I tried to keep a sensible border of the school district lines in Cowlitz, while highway 12 in Yakima. Whichever district crosses the Cascades is going to include uncommon communities, thus by relying on another principle of redistricting - electoral competition - argues in favor of making the district competitive. This is a lean Republican district with it somewhat underperforming the state as a whole with Obama earning 52.9% of the vote and Murray losing this district with a respectable 46.3% in the very red tide of 2010. While it's a lean Republican district, the discouraged Democratic base in Yakima County, particularly among the Hispanic and Native American communities, who haven't had a candidate to vote for in quite a while and the fact that Obama beat McCain by 7.7% in this district shows that they're thirsty for a candidate with a chance of winning. By comparison, the Commission's 3rd CD, is a Obama 50.9% and Murray 44.6% district - about 2% more Republican than my 3rd CD. Its worth noting that the current Republican Congresswoman in the 3rd CD, Jaime Herrera Beutler, is a freshman Congresswoman and certainly beatable.
Note: I split the city of Yakima, which would go against one of the principles stated the state Constitution and state law, but as stated before, this was done for one of the other principles - electoral competitiveness. The fact is that the city of Yakima is essentially de facto segregated with east Yakima being heavily Hispanic, while west Yakima not having many members of racial minorities. I will have an alternate map below that does not split the city of Yakima or Cowlitz County, but is less compact and makes both the 3rd and 6th CD's less competitive.
Next, here is the map of my 4th CD:
The 4th CD remains Washington's most conservative district, but becomes more compact and contains nearly all of the agricultural territory south and east of the Columbia River. The 4th CD is comprised of all of Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, Whitman, Adams, Lincoln, Grant, Klickitat, and Kittitas Counties and most of Douglas County, except for East Wenatchee, and parts of Yakima County including west Yakima and the area north of highway 12. This is a strong Republican district with it underperforming the state as a whole with Obama losing it with 38.3% of the vote and Murray losing it with 34.6%. Only a Republican can win this district. The Commission's 4th CD has about the same party ID as this district. Note: Only 68.5% Caucasian.
Next, here is the map of my 5th CD:
The 5th CD remains Washington's second most conservative district, but becomes more compact and contains all of the Okanogan highlands with Wenatchee on the west end and Spokane on the east end. The 5th CD is comprised of all of Chelan, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend O'reille, and Spokane Counties and East Wenatchee in Douglas County. This is a strong Republican district with it underperforming the state as a whole with Obama losing it with 46.2% of the vote and Murray losing it with 41.4%. Its likely that only a Republican can win this district, particularly if Cathy McMorris Rodgers keeps running, though if someone like Peter Goldmark, the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands, ran for an open seat in a Democratic year, he'd have a small chance. The Commission's 5th CD has about the same party ID as this district.
Next, here is the map of my 6th CD:
This CD contains all of Lewis, Wahkiakum, Pacific, Grays Harbor, Thurston, Mason, Jefferson, and Clallam Counties and rural area in northern Cowlitz County and unincorporated SW Pierce County resulting in this CD containing all of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) - a "community of interest." Its a tossup district with it underperforming the state as a whole with Obama winning it 54.7% and Murray with 50.5%. This district groups similar white working-class (often mill town) communities along the coast and in Lewis and Mason Counties, with the liberal state worker heavy Olympia area. While Democrats nationally and statewide only do modestly well in this area, locally and Congressionally, voters have been pulling the lever for Democrats for a long time, except for Lewis County which is deeply conservative, which makes this a competitive district. Also, McCain was a beneficiary in this district since it contains all of JBLM. By comparison, the Commission's 6th CD is about 2% more Democratic than this proposed district.
Next, here is the map of my 7th CD:
My 7th CD is an entirely King County district and it remains a very strong Democratic one. The CD comprises most of Seattle, excluding SE Seattle to allow a majority-minority 10th CD - more detailed later - as well as all of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Vashon Island, Burien, and Normandy Park. This is a strong Democratic CD that will only ever vote for Democrats. This district voted for Obama at 81.6% and Murray at 78.4%.
Next, here is the map of my 8th CD:
The 8th CD remains primarily an Eastern King County district, though exchanging Bellevue, which went to the majority-minority 10th CD, for Kirkland, Redmond, and Bothell (which crosses the King-Snohomish County Line) and other communities on the north end of the county, as well as all of Auburn, Milton, Edgewood, and Sumner near the King-Pierce County line and a small amount of rural of SE Snohomish County. This is a tossup District with it very slightly underperforming the state as a whole with Obama winning it 57.6%, but with Murray underperforming by a larger margin with her getting 50.1% of the vote. In an open seat, particularly in a Presidential year, a Democratic candidate would have the edge, but with current uncontroversial Republican incumbent Dave Reichert would have the edge though Suzan DelBene, who has deep pockets, would give him a run for his money. By comparison, the Commission's 8th CD is about 6% more conservative than this district.
Next, here is the map of my 9th CD:
My 9th CD is an entirely Pierce County district, which keeps all of Tacoma in one district - the Commission split it among 3 CD's - and all of its suburbs, including Lakewood, Puyallup, University Place, Bonney Lake, and Gig Harbor. This district would be the first to keep all of the Tacoma metro area together in one district. This is a tossup-to-lean Democratic district with it underperforming the state as a whole by slightly more than 1% with Obama winning it 56.2% and Murray winning it with 50.8% of the vote. Its conceivable that a Republican could win this district, if it were an open seat and a Republican year, but with current incumbent, moderate Democrat Adam Smith living in NE Tacoma, it would take a year worse than 2010 to displace. This district doesn't translate well to one of the Commission's districts, as it mostly from their 6th and 10th CD's, so I based it off of the 9th CD's Congressman's residence.
Finally, here is my 10th CD:
Like the Commission's 9th CD, my 10th CD would be Washington's first majority-minority district, though it doesn't split the city of Kent and is entirely within King County. Its about 0.4% less Caucasian than the Commission's 9th CD. It is my argument that racial minorities are a "community of interest" and by creating a majority-minority district - particularly one that doesn't include Adam Smith in NE Tacoma - increases the likelihood of electing a minority candidate, which I'd argue is a worthwhile desire. This is a strongly Democratic district where Obama won with 67.2% and Murray won with 61.7% of the vote. This district is about 2% more conservative compared to the Commission's 9th CD, but its still fairly uncompetitive.
In summation, this redistricting plan creates 2 strong Democratic districts, 2 strong Republican districts, 1 lean Republican district, 1 likely Democratic district, 1 tossup-to-lean Democratic district, and 3 tossup districts. In a good year, not factoring in the power of incumbency, this could make for a 8-2 state, but in an exceptionally bad year a 3-7 state. The only "unnecessary" splits are of Douglas, Cowlitz and Yakima Counties and the cities of Seattle, Yakima, and Coulee Dam. Also, this creates 3 Congressional districts, which are entirely within a single county, while the Commission's plan creates zero of that type. I feel this creates compact and convenient districts with similar communities - except for the 3rd CD - that allows for 5 very competitive districts.
Here is an alternate map and a chart of its electoral performance.
This alternate map alters the proposed 3rd, 4th, and 6th Congressional districts. The 4th Congressional District becomes more Hispanic and about 1.2% more liberal, but still uncompetitive. The 6th CD loses Lewis County and gains all of Cowlitz County and, as a result, goes from a tossup to lean Democratic. The 3rd CD gains all of Lewis County and some lightly populated rural southern Pierce County. Also, in Yakima County, it loses east Yakima city and gains some more rural areas in the county. As a result, it goes from lean Republican to safe Republican.
This map makes 2 CD's less competitive, but, on the other hand, doesn't split the city of Yakima and Cowlitz County. It depends upon what you consider to be more important - electoral competitiveness OR intact counties and cities.
So there are my plans for what I consider to be a Constitutional alternatives to Milem's plan.
Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 4:27 PM PT: John Milem has recently dropped his lawsuit against the state's redistricting plan due to health issues link, making this post basically moot. Nonetheless, the issue is interesting.