Voters in southwest Washington are encouraged by the League of Women Voters to express their views during the redistribution process
Your voice can be heard on election day.
But your vote doesn’t have to wait until election day.
In fact, your vote this month can have a profound impact on future election days.
This is one of the messages the League of Women Voters of Clark County (LOWV) seeks to convey as the state prepares for redistribution.
Alan Unell and Vokouhi Hovagimian, both members of the League of Women Voters, have taught citizens how to use their votes as the state prepares for redistribution. The Redistribution Committee is taking testimony from citizens this month. Photo by Paul Valencia
The 2021 Washington Redistricting Commission is currently hearing testimony from Congressional districts across the state. Southwest Washington (Congressional District 3) is due to be heard on June 14th.
The LOWV ran a speak-up school and gave lectures on what redistribution is, how important it is, and how citizens can get involved. The school also teaches citizens how best to testify, to use citizens’ own opinion, but to express that opinion in a timely and concise manner.
And all for a bigger cause.
“My wife and I grew up as engineers,” says Alan Unell. “We have learned that in the world of engineers, you get a better solution to a problem if you have different opinions about how to solve a problem.”
Unell and his wife Vokouhi Hovagimian are both members of the League of Women Voters. You live in Vancouver. Together they taught others all about redistribution.
Both indicate that the league is non-partisan.
“We don’t care about a party or any party. We are concerned that the process will be fair and that the districts will be as competitive as possible, ”said Unell. “If that’s the case, you get better solutions to problems. You will find that people vote on issues that matter most to them, not just party issues. “
There is a redistribution every 10 years after the census. States are redrawing congressional and legislative districts.
The league’s missions include promoting informed and active participation in government and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.
For redistribution, the league states that it seeks to promote fair and effective representation at all levels of government and the maximum opportunity for public participation. The league rejects official protection and any preferential treatment for political parties.
However, Unell points out that redistribution has been political for almost the entire history of the country. He shows examples of gerrymandering – the manipulation of borders to benefit a party or class – from across the United States. Racist gerrymandering, he noted, had been widespread in the southeast since the reconstruction.
And Washington has its own “ugly” story, Unell said. He knows of Indian tribes that are separated. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t happen.
Of course, the process of redistribution is not an easy one. And almost impossible to make everyone happy.
The state constitution originally said districts should be drawn by population.
“The end,” said Unell. “Not much guidance.”
Over the decades, things changed. For years, the state legislature was responsible for the redistribution.
“It’s not a good idea to ask lawmakers to draw the cards,” Unell said. “It’s like asking the foxes to stand in front of the chicken coop. You can imagine that politicians would draw the cards in their favor. “
In the 1980s, an independent commission of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent was proposed to make up the five-member committee. The independent is chairman of the commission but has no voting rights.
“You tried and it worked,” said Unell.
Soon after, it became law in Washington. According to LOWV documents, Washington is one of only six states that use independent commissions to draw congressional districts and one of nine states that use the commission to draw state legislative districts.
Washington’s system is better than most of the others, but Unell said it could be better. California, for example, has many more independent votes on its commission. According to LOWV research, 40 percent of voters in Washington state that they belong to neither the Republican nor the Democratic party. But there is only one independent on the Washington Commission who does not vote.
However, right now this commission is on a listening mode hearing testimony from citizens across the state.
Hovagimian, who is a member of the league’s board of directors, said the trigger for the Speak Up School came because the commission rejected a number of testimonies on various grounds 10 years ago.
Some people didn’t get their points across in the allotted time. Others struggled to explain why their district should be redrawn. The Speak Up School was a way to teach attitude and presence so people get to their point right away.
There are also ways for people to make their own cards. You can even write your arguments on these cards and send them to the commission, Unell said.
The Commission’s goal is to hear from 2,000 people across the state, or 200 per congressional district. The League of Women Voters is asking District 3 people interested in testifying to register by June 7, one week before the hearing. Citizens can record their testimony on video or audio and upload it to the Commission or attend the online public meeting on June 14th.
For more information, see the Washington State Redistricting Commission website at: https://www.redistricting.wa.gov/. As of Tuesday, that site didn’t have the software to draw your own map. But voters can create their own legislative maps at: https://davesredistricting.org/maps#home.