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Government & Politics

Legislative Districts Can Be Drawn With Political Competitiveness In Mind, Commission Decides

 Joe Lamson, a Democrat on Montana's districting commission, is particularly fond of this map showing the state's legislative districts as drawn in the early 2000s.
Shaylee Ragar
/
MTPR
Joe Lamson, a Democrat on Montana's districting commission, is particularly fond of this map showing the state's legislative districts as drawn in the early 2000s.

The rules that will guide the drawing of Montana’s new legislative districts are finalized. Democrats won in their push to include competitiveness in the official criteria.

Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission spent much of Tuesday afternoon debating whether to consider political competition between candidates when drawing the state’s new political districts.

The two Democrats on the commission, including Joe Lamson, advocated for tight legislative elections.

“You know, competition is supposed to be the thing that makes everything work,” he says.

The two Republicans on the commission, including Jeff Essmann, disagreed.

“We’re going to have enough things to argue about based upon the criteria without having a desired political outcome branded clearly at the top,” Essmann says.

The commission’s nonpartisan presiding officer, Maylinn Smith, used her tiebreaking vote to side with Democrats to include competitiveness as a loose goal when drawing legislative districts.

“I believe that competitiveness is already being considered. I think we need to be transparent about it,” she says.

There was much public comment in support of making districts competitive, although some objected, saying it’s subjective criteria. The policy adopted lets commissioners consider a district's competitiveness when drawing lines, but does not make competitiveness a requirement.

In the 2020 election, Republicans won all statewide offices and picked up 10 legislative seats.

The rules adopted Tuesday generally mirror the criteria the commission adopted earlier this month for the state’s two new Congressional districts.

Commission members agreed that districts should be in one piece, group communities of interest together and should not favor one political party over another. They’ll use that criteria and the latest population data from the U.S. Census Bureau to redraw the state’s 50 state Senate seats and 100 seats in the House of Representatives.

The U.S. Census Bureau is set to send states the granular population data they need on Aug. 16, at which point the commission will be able to begin map drawing.

Copyright 2021 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.