This editorial originally was published by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:
In a first for our state, the bipartisan redistricting committee missed the midnight deadline Monday, Nov. 15, and now the redrawing of congressional and legislative lines will fall to the state’s Supreme Court. The court’s deadline falls in April 2022.
To say we’re disappointed is an understatement.
In many other states, redistricting is handled by the Legislature. This is problematic because instead of redrawing based on the people’s needs, redistricting becomes an opportunity for the most powerful party to manipulate boundaries to its advantage.
For years, our state has somewhat stood apart from this. Washington’s model of appointing a bipartisan redistricting committee to handle this important task, while not perfect, yielded tolerable results.
Not this year.
Agreed, redrawing congressional maps is no small assignment. And we’d be more inclined to be understanding had the commission’s deliberations been open to the public, as they should have been. But throughout their final meeting, the committee gave next to no updates or insights of substance to all who joined via video conference and “only a brief, less-than-30-minute discussion was in public” out of the whole five-hour meeting, reports the Spokesman-Review.
In the last few minutes, the committee passed two quick votes to approve maps which no one was given the chance to see. The meeting ended with a promise to upload the final maps to the committee’s website “before dawn,” according to nonvoting chair Sarah Augustine.
On Tuesday, Nov. 16, a news conference set up to dive into the newly approved maps and the committee’s deliberations was cancelled. Instead, the commissioners released a statement admitting failure and blaming the delayed release of U.S. Census Bureau data. Later that day, and decidedly not before dawn, the commission released the maps they’d voted on, now unusable.
Though there are many things wrong with how this played out, what we most take issue with is how the committee’s deliberations were almost entirely out of public view.
As the Spokesman put it, “According to the law, public voting bodies can go behind closed doors for only select reasons, such as personnel matters, legal issues or security concerns. The commissioners did not explain how the mostly private meetings complied with the Open Public Meetings Act.”
What we do know: the commission has violated the Open Public Meetings Act at a time when the public trust in public government entities are at an all-time low.
This must not be allowed to set a precedent.