The Washington State Redistricting Commission is hashing out when to release draft maps, and how to account for people who are incarcerated or committed as they adjust voting districts.
Drafts of state Legislative maps are tentatively set to be released on Sept. 21, with Congressional maps following on Sept. 28. These dates were discussed by the Commission at its July 19 meeting.
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Releasing the maps in September will give the public a chance to provide comment before the Nov. 15 deadline, when final map drafts will be submitted to the Washington state Legislature. Because the data was delayed this redistricting cycle, the Commission has been holding public comment sessions before draft maps have been drawn.
Commissioners are still waiting for the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data for drafting these maps, which is expected to arrive on Aug. 16. Data is normally provided by April, but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every 10 years, after the federal Census is complete, a Redistricting Commission is formed to redraw state and federal voting districts based on changes in population and communities of interest.
The public is also invited to create their own proposed maps through a tool on the Redistricting Commission’s website. Roughly 150 people have signed up to create their own maps, said Lisa McLean, executive director for the Redistricting Commission. Since the tool went live in early July, it has generated roughly 40% of all traffic to the site.
While they’re receiving public comment, Commissioners are additionally thinking about how to address incarcerated people, and those involuntarily committed for behavioral health treatment in the mapping process.
Counting prisoners — who can’t vote while serving time — as residents of the district where their prison is located has raised questions about fair representation. NPR examined the issue in a 2019 article, which can be read here.
In 2019, Washington became the fifth state to pass legislation requiring people be counted from their last known residential address in the redistricting process, instead of from where their current prison or mental health facility is located. Since then, six additional states have passed similar legislation.
This law, SB 5287, applies to everyone incarcerated by the Washington State Department of Corrections, children and teens incarcerated in Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families detention facilities, and everyone involuntarily committed by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. It does not apply to people whose previous address was outside of Washington state.
Nearly 18,200 people are incarcerated or committed in Washington state. Of that, 94% were from the Department of Corrections, 3.6% were from the Department of Social and Health Services, and 2.4% were from the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
The Redistricting Commission hired an analyst, who spent last month analyzing data provided by the state agencies. They were able to move addresses for 84% of the 18,189 people from the facility addresses to prior residential addresses.
The remaining 16% couldn’t be moved due to a variety of reasons, including people who lived out of state, providing previous addresses that don’t exist anymore, or providing PO box numbers instead of residential addresses, among others.
In order for the Redistricting Commission to move someone’s address, they have to identify the specific block someone lived on before they were incarcerated or committed. If they’re unable to do that, then their address will remain that of the corrections or mental health facility.
Commissioners plan to discuss this further at their Aug. 16 meeting.
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