Creating Snohomish County Council districts that comply with state law

Posted 6 August 2011 by
Hon. Liz McLaughlin

The late Hon. Liz McLaughlin

This blog post is entirely my own work and responsibility. The Snohomish County Districting Committee or political party did not authorize this post. I did not consult with any other member of the Districting Committee when writing it.

(4) The plan shall be consistent with the following criteria:

(a) Each internal director, council, or commissioner district shall be as nearly equal in population as possible to each and every other such district comprising the municipal corporation, county, or special purpose district.

(b) Each district shall be as compact as possible.

(c) Each district shall consist of geographically contiguous area.

(d) Population data may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.

(e) To the extent feasible and if not inconsistent with the basic enabling legislation for the municipal corporation, county, or district, the district boundaries shall coincide with existing recognized natural boundaries and shall, to the extent possible, preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest.

Section 29A.76.010, Revised Code of Washington

I am one of five members of the Snohomish County Districting Committee. To be exact, one of two members appointed to represent the Democratic Party. There are two members appointed to represent the Republican Party, and a chair selected by the four appointed members. The complete committee recommended a person to be our Districting Master to analyze the census data, and to draw boundaries using committee input.

On Tuesday, August 9, 2011, there will be a public meeting where we will receive public comment on two different plans.

  • Plan 1 (3.86 MB, PDF). This was the first plan presented by the Districting Master.
  • Plan 7 (3.82 MB, PDF). This was a “compromise plan” that was drawn at the request of the chair by the Districting Master to take into account comments made upon Plan 1 through Plan 6.

There is not a “Republican Plan” or a “Democratic Plan” open for comment at the meeting. The closest to a “Republican Plan” is Plan 2, proposed as a way to add necessary people to the second council district. The closest to a “Democratic Plan” is Plan 4, proposed as a way to make Plan 2 comply with state law. In all cases, the Districting Master drew each plan using census data.

To summarize the differences:

  • Plan 1 follows the more traditional of drawing districts in Snohomish County. It took into account city boundaries, then filled in the unincorporated areas as necessary. This split “existing communities of related and mutual interest” throughout the county.
  • Plan 7 follows the principles underlying Plan 4, but does a better job of, “to the extent possible, preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest.”

Plan 1

This plan starts from the council districts drawn in 2001, using the same criteria given by the Districting Committee to the Districting Master in 2001. (I was a member of the 2001 Districting Committee—the only person to repeat in 2011.)

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Familiarity.
    • It looks like what we have done before.
  • Generally keeps cities in the same district.
    • This is not a requirement of state law. Only “communities of related and mutual interest” are required to be kept together. Other counties split their cities in Washington State.
  • Splits communities of related and mutual interest. While some splits are unavoidable, some of these splits could be avoided:
    • Martha Lake Area
      • Split among districts 3 and 4.
      • Lynnwood is in District 3, but Lynnwood High School (which is in the Martha Lake area) is in District 4.
    • Silver Lake Area
      • Split among Districts 2, 4, and 5.
    • Granite Falls and Vicinity
      • City and area west of city (along SR-92) in council District 5
      • All other area outside city limits in council District 1, including a non-contiguous (by road) area along Menzel Lake Road.
    • Lake Roesigner
      • Most in District 5.
      • Area in the north in District 1.
    • South Everett—South Paine Field
      • Split between Districts 2 and 3.
  • District boundaries do not coincide with existing recognized natural boundaries. In particular:
    • Residential streets or non-major streets used in many cases to draw lines, rather than major streets.
    • City limits used, although these are not natural and regularly change (grow due to annexations).
  • Only two council members have most of the unincorporated areas of the county.
    • Residents of cities go to their cities for most public services concerns (roads, police, and parks).
    • Most of the unincorporated areas of Snohomish County are in District 1 and District 5, meaning only two council members deal with their public service concerns.
    • District 2 has almost no unincorporated area within its boundaries.
  • Does not follow the practices in other major Washington State counties. (See the advantages for Plan 7 for discussion.)

Adopting this plan would be easy, but easy is not always right or complies with the law.

If the current law was in effect in 2001, the current districts could have been challenged in court on much the same reasons as Plan 1 could be challenged today if adopted as is. (Although I was on the committee in 2001, I do not remember the exact requirements of the Revised Code of Washington then.)

Plan 7

This is a compromise plan drawn in response to comments made in committee to all other plans. It is based on Plan 4, which was proposed by me to remove legal possible difficulties with Plan 2.

Plan 4 proposed to follow state law by drawing as many boundaries as possible along existing recognized natural boundaries to provide a bright, clear lines for district boundaries. Most notable among those boundaries is I-5.

The major differences between Plan 4 and Plan 7 are the following:

  • Plan 7 does not split Stanwood. Plan 4 used SR-532 as a northern boundary.
  • Plan 7 took a clearly identifiable area west of I-5 from District 2 to give to District 5 to balance populations. Plan 4 kept all of District 5 east of I-5.
Advantages Disadvantages 
  • Keeps communities of related and mutual interest together as much as possible.
    • Silver Firs was split between District 4 and District 5, but was split along a major street.
  • Uses major natural boundaries whenever possible.
    • Uses I-5, Harbour Pointe Boulevard, SR-99, SR-96, SR-9, 112th Street SW, and Machias Road (or Centennial Trail) instead of residential streets.
    • Not based on city boundaries, which change.
    • An person could look at a council district map know a particular area’s district without looking at the fine print.
  • Shares the unincorporated area better among the five districts.
  • This plan gives every member of the council a significant portion of unincorporated area.
  • Not based on political or racial considerations.
    • Plan 2 called for only moving the Tulalip precincts to district 2, which could be challenged on political or racial reasons.
    • See discussion below.
  • Follows practices in other major Washington State counties.
      • Bellingham is in all three council districts.
      • Guide Meridian (SR-539) and other major roads are used for boundaries.
      • Bremerton is in two of the three council districts, split along major streets and SR-3.
      • Silverdale is in two of the three districts, split mostly along SR-3 and SR-303.
      • Spokane is in all three council districts.
      • Boundaries are mostly along the Spokane River and US 195.
    • It is not how things were done in the past.

    Political and racial considerations

    (6)

    (a) Any registered voter residing in an area affected by the redistricting plan may request review of the adopted local plan by the superior court of the county in which he or she resides, within forty-five days of the plan’s adoption. Any request for review must specify the reason or reasons alleged why the local plan is not consistent with the applicable redistricting criteria. The municipal corporation, county, or district may be joined as respondent. The superior court shall thereupon review the challenged plan for compliance with the applicable redistricting criteria set out in subsection (4) of this section.

    (b) If the superior court finds the plan to be consistent with the requirements of this section, the plan shall take effect immediately.

    (c) If the superior court determines the plan does not meet the requirements of this section, in whole or in part, it shall remand the plan for further or corrective action within a specified and reasonable time period.

    (d) If the superior court finds that any request for review is frivolous or has been filed solely for purposes of harassment or delay, it may impose appropriate sanctions on the party requesting review, including payment of attorneys’ fees and costs to the respondent municipal corporation, county, or district.

    Section 29A.76.010, Revised Code of Washington

    In short, any districting plan appearing not complying with subsection (4) is subject to challenge and change through the courts if it appears to consider racial or political groups. (See the beginning of this post for subsection (4).)

    In 2011, District 2 needed to gain the most population from the 2001 districts. One of the Republicans on the committee suggested moving the Tulalip Reservation to District 2 to accomplish this. It could be argued that such a move was the quickest way to add population to District 2 and take it from District 1. This proposal also hoped to remove some of the problems with the Granite Falls area in Plan 1.

    The fly in this ointment is that the voters in the Tulalip Reservation vote predominately Democratic in a district currently represented by a Republican. It is the largest area in Snohomish County identified with a racial minority. This leaves such a proposal subject to challenge in court for having been made for racial or political reasons.

    I did not say the proposal was made intentionally to violate state law. The law does not say such a move needed to intentional, only that it was done.

    In addition to possible racial or political considerations, Plan 2 still split identifiable communities, such as Silver Lake and Martha Lake.

    Because of the problems with Plan 2, I proposed what is officially Plan 4. My name for it is the “I-5 Solution.” The idea behind Plan 4 is the following:

    • Have all boundaries follow major features, such as roads or rivers. Do not depend on city limits (which change) or less than major roadways.
    • Keep identifiable communities in the same district.
    • Not allow even a hint of racial or political considerations in the boundaries.

    Plan 4 has evolved into Plan 7, taking into considerations the problems with all the other plans. Plan 7 was requested by the chair of the committee for this reason.

    There is an accusation that Plan 7 favors Democrats because of what it removes from District 1. The numbers do not support that accusation.

    The area north of the Snohomish River proposed for District 2 is about 30,000 people (give or take a few). Stanwood and Tulalip make up well over half of those people, with about 17-18,000 people (give or take a few).

    The following election results are from 2008, 2009, and 2010. They were taken from the Snohomish County Auditor’s website. These results show that Plan 7 removes a substantial number of voters that vote for Democrats from District 1.

    Year Race Precinct Democrat Republican Write-In Dem. Percent Rep. Percent 
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 1 

    103 

    97 

    2 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 2 

    154 

    188 

    3 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 3

    150 

    168 

    0 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 4 

    236 

    284 

    0 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 5 

    180 

    336 

    0 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 6 

    53 

    128 

    2 

      
    2010 US Representative STANWOOD 7 

    96 

    116 

    1 

      
    2010 US Representative TULALIP 1 

    194 

    189 

    2 

      
    2010US Representative TULALIP 2 

    236 

    114 

    1 

      
    2010 US Representative TULALIP 3 

    238 

    165 

    1 

      
    2010 US Representative TULALIP 4 

    269 

    201 

    0 

      
    2010 US Representative TULALIP 5 

    176 

    99 

    0 

      
    2010 US Representative TULALIP 6 

    149 

    82 

    1 

      
     US Representative Total 

    2234 

    2167 

    13 

    50.76% 

    49.24% 

    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 1 

    106 

    102 

    0 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 2 

    163 

    180 

    3 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 3 

    147 

    168 

    2 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 4 

    239 

    280 

    5 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 5 

    183 

    328 

    9 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 6 

    57 

    126

    2 

      
    2010 US Senator STANWOOD 7 

    109 

    106 

    1 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 1 

    197 

    187 

    3 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 2 

    234 

    118 

    0 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 3 

    252 

    152 

    4 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 4 

    281 

    189 

    3 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 5 

    178 

    98 

    2 

      
    2010 US Senator TULALIP 6 

    153 

    78 

    2 

      
     US Senator Total  

    2299 

    2112 

    36 

    52.12% 

    47.88% 

    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 1 

    57 

    80 

    2 

      
    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 2 

    114 

    136 

    1 

      
    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 3 

    93 

    139 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 4 

    153 

    223 

    2 

      
    2009 County Council 1STANWOOD 5 

    117 

    191 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 6 

    13 

    60 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 STANWOOD 7 

    75 

    86 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 1 

    138 

    117 

    1 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 2 

    145 

    91 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 3 

    108 

    95 

    0 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 4 

    155 

    142 

    2 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 5 

    64 

    90 

    2 

      
    2009 County Council 1 TULALIP 6 

    93 

    56 

    0 

      
     County Council 1 Total 

    1325 

    1506 

    10 

    46.80% 

    53.20% 

    2008 President STANWOOD 1 

    145 

    146 

    3 

      
    2008 President STANWOOD 2 

    213

    198 

    1 

      
    2008 President STANWOOD 3 

    333 

    367 

    3 

      
    2008 President STANWOOD 4 

    288 

    326 

    3 

      
    2008 President STANWOOD 5 

    279 

    452 

    2 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 1 

    221 

    220 

    3 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 2 

    312 

    150 

    3 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 3 

    349 

    186 

    0 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 4 

    363 

    227 

    1 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 5 

    234 

    122 

    0 

      
    2008 President TULALIP 6 

    202 

    89 

    0 

      
     President Total  

    2939 

    2483 

    19 

    54.21% 

    45.79% 

    2008 US Representative STANWOOD 1 

    165 

    122 

    0 

      
    2008 US Representative STANWOOD 2 

    246 

    160 

    0 

      
    2008 US RepresentativeSTANWOOD 3 

    383 

    301 

    2 

      
    2008 US Representative STANWOOD 4 

    355 

    251 

    1 

      
    2008 US Representative STANWOOD 5 

    335 

    384 

    1 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 1 

    257 

    172 

    1 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 2 

    338 

    118 

    3 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 3 

    363 

    160 

    0 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 4 

    401 

    177 

    0 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 5 

    255 

    96 

    1 

      
    2008 US Representative TULALIP 6 

    216 

    71 

    0 

      
     US Representative Total 

    3314 

    2012 

    9 

    62.22% 

    37.78% 

     Grand Total  

    12111 

    10280 

    87 

    54.09% 

    45.91% 

    The only election that had a majority vote for the Republican was the last county council race.

    It would be wrong to characterize District 1 as a “Republican” district, even though the incumbent council member is a Republican. Before being elected to Congress, Hon. Rick Larsen (2nd Congressional District, Democrat) represented District 1 on the Snohomish County Council.

    You can characterize the 2010 US Representative race as a race between the former (Hon. Rick Larsen) and current District 1 (Hon. John Koster) member on the Snohomish County Council. No wonder it was so close.

    Plan 7 improves Plan 4 by making it look less like an effort to remove Republican voters from District 1. I am very pleased to see Plan 4 improved this way.

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