YAKIMA - Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton's most recent job was as a commissioner working on the redistricting of Washington state.
"In my view, Washington state has the single best system (for redistricting) of any of the states," he said, starting a presentation to the League of Women Voters of Yakima County yesterday, Wednesday, at noon.
The presentation, by Gorton, Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly and Yakima County Elections Supervisor Kathy Fisher was about how the lines were redrawn in Yakima County districts and precincts.
Gorton started off with the general issue of redistricting, the act of redrawing political boundaries in the state based on the most recent census figures. As a member of the four-person commission, he had a lot of input into how the boundaries changed across the state. But first he explained how Washington selects its commission.
"The majority and minority (party) leaders in the state legislature each pick one person," he said. "The result is an evenly divided commission that is never partisan and always includes compromises."
Gorton said the requirements of the Voting Rights Act required the commission to create a majority-minority district in Yakima County. Although he disagreed with the interpretation of the law, the commission did make the 15th District, of which Sunnyside is part, into a majority-minority district.
The result, according to Gorton, is that the district is 3 percent more Republican and 55 percent Hispanic.
Because district boundaries are drawn based on the population in an area and not the voters, the 15th district also has the largest percentage of people who are not old enough to vote, according to Gorton.
After Gorton's presentation, Mattingly talked about how the redistricting affected Yakima County. She explained that drawing the lines for precincts was different from the state level effort. The political considerations don't matter, just the size of the precincts and the costs to the county.
Fisher explained that each precinct had to have no more than 1,500 voters and that precincts cannot be split across district boundaries. The result for Yakima County was a lot of work.
"Our resources pale in comparison to, say, King County," Fisher said.
Mattingly said Fisher's office was covered in maps as she tried to redrawn precincts to fit the rules. Before redistricting, Yakima County had 149 precincts. After, the county had 163.
Fisher said 26 existing precincts were split by the new state level legislative lines and 51 precincts changed districts. She said approximately 44,000 voters out of 101,905 in the county were affected by the changes.
All that was despite Fisher's efforts to minimize the changes.
"In addition to having to print new voter cards, we also have to notify all voters of the changes that affect them," she said. "The cost to the county builds up."
The meeting ended with a question and answer session in which discussion drifted to the top-two primary and how popular it is in the state.
"Again, Washington state has the best system," said Gorton. "Even California is copying us."