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Redistricting commission submits proposals for new legislative districts

The Montana state Capitol in Helena
Nick Mott
/
Montana Public Radio/file photo

Tensions were high and familiar Tuesday among members of the Montana commission in charge of drawing new political boundaries.

The two Republicans and two Democrats on the districting and apportionment commission each presented their ideas for what the 100 state House of Representative and 50 state Senate districts should look like based on new population data.

They clashed on the criteria to guide the line drawing, which is also where they deadlocked last fall when they drew the state’s two new congressional districts.

Democrats are focused on making maps that are politically competitive, which could help them as the minority party in Montana. Forty-three of the 100 state House districts they proposed favor Democrats, and 57 favor Republicans. That’s based on how people in districts voted in past elections.

Kendra Miller, a Democrat on the commission, argued the map proposed by Republicans includes only 32 seats that favor Democrats, which would give conservatives a supermajority.

“That unduly favors your political party,” she said.

Jeff Essmann, a Republican commissioner, said he didn’t look at the political lean of districts before drawing them, and that he focused on four criteria required by law — making districts that are compact, contiguous, equal in population and adhere to the Voting Rights Act.

“This meme that 57-43 is where we have to end up in the House seats is not in our constitution," he said.

Miller made a motion to disallow the Republican maps from moving forward, but that effort failed on a tie-breaking vote from commission chair Maylinn Smith, who said all proposals should advance. She said they’ll likely be amended.

“I do not anticipate the maps we see today being the final maps,” Smith said.

The public can now comment on the proposals, or submit their own. The commission will travel throughout the state this fall to hold public hearings. A schedule can be found at mtredistricting.gov.

The commission will need to adopt final maps outlining 150 legislative districts before January.

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.