Commissioner approved Legislative district map

This commissioner approved Legislative district map based on 2020 Census data.

Whoever started the old saying about football being a game of inches never had to deal with legislative redistricting.

To say last week’s too-little-too-late attempt by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission to redraw some local voting boundaries was a close call is an understatement. If it were football, their work would be under review and referees would be rerunning the video — in super slo-mo — over and over again.

As it is, the plan they came up with, which was due by 11:59 p.m. last Monday but wasn’t released until the next evening, will instead go to the state Supreme Court. The clock had expired, so the panel’s plan doesn’t count.

It’s the first time that’s ever happened in Washington, so we’re in uncharted territory from here on.

The four voting members of the commission — Democrats Brady Piñero Walkinshaw and April Sims, and Republicans Paul Graves and Joe Fain — took a lot of heat for playing fast and loose with state open meetings laws. But maybe it’s understandable if they were a little distracted. After all, they faced a daunting task: mapping out 10 U.S. House districts and 49 state legislative districts. That meant updating the boundaries of the state’s 14th and 15th districts to reflect the latest census and making sure those boundaries were in keeping with state and federal voting rights regulations.

The commissioners deserve credit for at least redrawing lines to unite the Yakama Nation in one district. And in the end, they came up with a way — barely — to meet the requirement of ensuring that one of Yakima County’s districts is majority Latino, since most residents of the county are Latino.

Under the commission’s plan, 50.02% of the 15th District would be Latinos, according to the UCLA Voting Rights Project. The commission’s population breakdowns aren’t publicly available yet, and are supposed to be released Monday.

If that 50.02% is correct, that’s about as close as you can cut it.

Meeting that requirement for the Yakima Valley, commissioners admitted, was a key sticking point in their negotiations, but give them credit: eventually they did reach an agreement.

The Republican and Democratic sides of the commission cited different studies to back up their arguments, so naturally, the compromise they finally struck is already drawing howls from both ends of the political spectrum.

The 50.02% figure strikes some as suspiciously close to an attempt to comply with the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. Others complain that kicking the debate to the Supreme Court means the commission’s work will be swept aside and could put some legislative seats at risk if a district’s makeup is changed dramatically.

Yup, if this were a football review, the crowd would be growing restless and starting to boo by now.

At any rate, the Supreme Court has until April 30 to do what the commission couldn’t, and the commissioners are urging the court to accept the plan they ultimately agreed to.

Local legislators, meantime, are complaining that if the court doesn’t issue a decision until April, potential political candidates will have only a few weeks to file for office. That’s a fair concern, but who knows? Maybe the court will quickly accept the commission’s plan and hand down its decision early. If not, we’ll at least be spared watching so many political commercials next year.

It seems to us, though, that no matter what the Supreme Court does, somebody from one end or the other of this tangle will end up suing somebody else. So any way you look at it, it’ll likely be up to the legal system to settle it. Odds are, that would have been the case even if the commission had met its deadline.

So while the most logical way out of this would be to accept the commission’s belated plan, maybe the best solution in the long run is to place it before the highest court in the state and make sure the new map gets done right.

That way, we’d at least be doing our best to make sure the new districts follow all the legal rules.

Even if somebody throws a red challenge flag after that.