The Finished Lines: Spokane County’s Redistribution Committee reached an informal agreement on the final map

After months of meetings, hundreds of hours of drawing boundaries, and big last-minute compromises, the bipartisan committee that will decide the division of Spokane County into five commissioner districts has reached an informal agreement on a final map.

The unofficial final map creates three largely rural counties, one each for the northern, southeastern, and southwestern thirds of the county, and two long, thin counties for Spokane.

Based on recent election results, it appears likely that the new map would spawn Republican commissioners in the northern and southeastern counties and Democratic commissioners in the Spokane counties.

The fifth district is more competitive than the other four. It lumps the West Plains into sizable swaths of northwest and southern Spokane, and has ajar 5.5 percentage points on Republicans in the past.

This 5.5 point lead in the swing district means the GOP has a good chance of winning a majority in the first five-person commission.

In the past, Spokane County had three commissioners running in district-specific primaries but running in district-wide general elections. But in 2022, voters will elect five commissioners who will take office in 2023, each representing one district.

The redistribution committee is tasked with drawing lines that divide the county into five districts.

With around 55% of the county electorate being Republicans and 45% Democrats, committee members decided it would be fair to draw a map that will likely lead to two red wards, two blue wards, and a Republican swing district.

At the end of their meeting on Thursday, committee members had agreed on a final map but came to a dead end on how the terms for new commissioners should be staggered.

With voters going to elect all five commissioners at once in 2022, the committee had to decide which districts start with a two-year term and which have a four-year term to begin with.

Republican-appointed committee members Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball had argued that because they had approved a swing district, that swing district should begin with a four-year term.

Democrat-appointed committee member Natasha Hill said this would look like incumbent protection. No one has mentioned the incumbent by name, but Spokane County Commissioner Al French lives in the Swing District that connects the West Plains with the westernmost and southernmost areas of Spokane.

Hill and her Democrat-appointed committee member Brian McClatchey said they would sign a four-year term for the swing district to reduce the 5-point Republican advantage there.

At the meeting on Friday, the committee members agreed on a compromise. McDevitt and Ball said they would be willing to start the swing district with a two-year term in order to add a few tenths of a percentage point to the Republican advantage. McClatchey and Hill agreed, so committee members adjusted a few lines to make the district less competitive.

Committee members informally agreed that two districts would begin four-year terms – the southeast district, which will likely elect a Republican, and the eastern Spokane district, which will likely elect a Democrat.

Three districts will begin with a two-year term: the Republican Swing District, the Northern District, which will likely elect a Republican, and the Western Spokane District, which will likely elect a Democrat.

Barring unexpected changes, the important part of the reallocation process is essentially complete. The committee must now formalize its card and officially vote on it next week.

“We need to look at them (the map and the term lengths) one last time,” said McClatchey. “I think it will be exactly as we described it.”

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