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Federal judges create new map outlining Montana's Public Service Commission districts

The map of Montana's Public Service Commission districts created by federal judges, March 8, 2022.
The map of Montana's Public Service Commission districts created by federal judges.

A panel of federal judges has struck down the current map outlining the districts for Montana’s utility oversight commission and implemented a new one. The order comes days before the filing deadline for candidates running for the commission.

The judges are ordering Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to adopt the new district map for the Public Service Commission ahead of the 2022 election, ruling the current map unconstitutionally malapportioned.

The new map creates districts closer in population size. Upper Seven Law’s Constance Van Kley, who represented the plaintiffs when they made their case in court last week, says proper representation matters for ratepayers.

“When you vote for a Public Service Commissioner, that Public Service Commissioner is your voice in dealing with entities that would otherwise just charge you as much as possible," she said.

Secretary Jacobsen reluctantly offered a new map for the judges to consider, saying she preferred to have the Legislature redraw the map. The plaintiffs offered three proposals.

After lawmakers were unable to muster support for a special session to redraw the districts, the federal judges deferred to the secretary’s proposed map with one tweak to avoid splitting the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

That map is now in place for 2022, although the judges noted lawmakers have the ability at any time to call a special session and redraw it.

Speaker of the House Wylie Galt says he’s disappointed by the court’s decision, but appreciates that the new map makes as few changes to the current lines as possible.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.