Montana redistricting commission set to draw state legislative map

Montana redistricting commission set to draw state legislative map
Montana redistricting commission set to draw state legislative map

HELENA — Montana has just elected lawmakers to serve in the 2023 state legislative session. legislative constituencies for the next elections and beyond.

The committee has set aside four days next week for working sessions. There, they hope to develop a first draft of the legislative map that will be used in the 2024-2032 elections.

The job is far more complex than their original task: to draw a single line to separate Montana’s two new congressional districts. The first step is to carve up the state into 100 home districts, each with about 10,800 residents. Once commissioners complete a map of the House, they will join pairs of neighboring seats to form 50 Senate districts.

“What we saw during congressional meetings was maybe a little more dramatic, but a lot less detailed than what we’re trying to do now,” Dan Stusek said. Stusek is one of two Republicans on the five-member commission.

“It’s much more complicated; it’s much more technical,” said Kendra Miller, one of the two Democratic commissioners.

In August, the four bipartisan commissioners published their first proposals. Republicans Stusek and Jeff Essmann said the maps they produced would prioritize relatively geographically compact districts. Democrats Miller and Joe Lamson said they drew maps that would emphasize competitiveness and create a legislature closer to Montana’s overall party makeup.

However, the commission has received significant public feedback since then, and it’s clear that any map that progresses will be significantly altered.

“I’m confident enough to say that none of these four will be the final map,” said commission chair Maylinn Smith.

Maylinn Smith, chair of the Montana District and Dispatch Commission, says none of the state legislative proposals proposed so far will be the final map.

As an officially nonpartisan commissioner, appointed by the Montana Supreme Court, Smith will likely be called upon to sever ties if the two sides remain split on a map. She told MTN that she would focus on the criteria adopted by the commission. They include both demands – relative population equality, protection of minority voting power, and compact, contiguous districts – and goals – connecting “communities of interest”, minimizing divisions between cities and counties, considering competitive elections and prevent a plan from “unduly favoring” a political party.

Throughout the process, Smith said she wanted the four partisan commissioners to come to a consensus whenever possible.

“I’m willing to be the tie breaker once, but I’ll only take one vote, so we’ll have to get closer to that final map if they can’t come to a consensus,” she said. .

Stusek and Miller told MTN that they believe there are areas where they can reach an agreement, but are still very far apart in some respects.

Stusek said Republicans view the compactness of the district — which is required by the state constitution — as a primary goal, as well as connecting communities with common interests and geographic ties. In response to objections from Democrats that their maps created too many Republican-leaning districts relative to the statewide partisan collapse, he said it reflected the concentration of the Democratic vote in specific areas.

Stusek said they’re open to having discussions about the focus on competitive districts, a topic he says he’s heard a lot about in public comments.

“We didn’t want it to be a mandatory criteria, or a criteria at all, because we thought it had been a little abused, but it’s certainly something we’re open to, and we’ve heard from people that they appreciate and enjoy,” he said.

Miller said the Democrats’ maps met a minimum requirement of compactness, but they wanted to balance it with all the other criteria considered by the commission. She said Republicans had agreed to accept a competitiveness metric based on ten recent statewide elections, and that the original proposals would have favored Republicans in far more districts than their vote share in the state. statewide in these elections.

Miller said that while a map may appear geographically neater, it may still be biased in favor of one party.

“What ultimately matters to the people of Montana for the next ten years in the Legislative Assembly?” she asked. “Are people going to say, ‘I liked the shape of my legislative constituency?’ Or will people look at the Legislature and wonder if it really reflects the will of Montana voters? »

The two sides’ initial maps also differed in how they treated tribal areas. Over the past 20 years, Montana has had six majority Native American districts, paired into three majority Senate districts. In both Republican maps, two reservation-centric House districts would no longer share a border, so they could not be combined into a single Senate district.

Miller said the change would negate the commission’s responsibility to preserve the voice of Indigenous voters under the Voting Rights Act.

“If we were to pass something that breaks up reservation communities, so they can’t have a voice in the Senate, that would be a quick ticket to court,” she said.

Stusek said MTN’s Republican maps were meant to give the public a full view of possible redistricting options.

“Through this process, we’ve heard that people have certainly expressed a desire to keep districts compliant with the Voting Rights Act, and as commission Republicans, we fully intend to do so. “, did he declare.

When the commission meets on November 28 for its first working session, it will have a new member. In October, Lamson – who previously served as commissioner in the 2000 and 2010 cycles – resigned for health reasons. He was replaced as Democratic commissioner by former Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.

Smith told MTN that she hopes the commission will complete its work on a draft map of the House district by the end of next week, but that she may have a bit more time to analyze the proposals before deciding. post one for public comment.

The public is expected to have a chance to weigh in on the draft card at the State Capitol in Helena and on Zoom, during a hearing on Saturday, December 10. Later in December, the commission will meet again to pair Senate districts and assign current senators who will be “retained” in the 2024 election to represent

You can also continue to submit public written comments on the commission’s website. They have a contact form for general responses. In addition, you can view the proposed maps, click on an interactive tool and provide specific answers on specific areas.

. commission redistricting Montana ready develop a map legislative state

. Montana redistricting commission set draw state legislative map

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