Opinion: Down the rabbit hole – the Clark County Council redistricting map process


Battle Ground resident Dick Rylander scrutinizes the redistricting process in Clark County

Dick Rylander
Battle Ground

Do you remember reading the childhood story of Alice in Wonderland? Last November, voters amended the Clark County Charter to move from four (4) to five (5) councilor districts. As part of that amendment the Charter Review Commission created a map realigning the councilor districts. What seems a simple exercise on the surface turns out to be anything but. Today, I’d like you to join me as we follow Alice down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the best elusive councilor redistricting map. Things are not at all like they seem at first glance. Let’s step through the looking glass.

Dick Rylander
Dick Rylander

Cast of characters: Alice (Clark County councilors). Rabbit (redistricting map). Madhatter? You decide.

The Clark County Charter Review Commission ended up being a group of 15 Democrats. (Did this influence any of their decisions?) They proposed (and voters approved) moving the one councilor elected countywide into a district of their own. This necessitated the creation of a fifth district from the current four. That commission created a map that changed boundaries of council districts (making 5 out of 4). They put three of the existing county councilors in one district, (District 4). All three of those councilors were (in the last election) stated members of the Republican Party. When the Charter Commission was asked about the coincidence of putting three councilors in one district they said it was unintentional and they didn’t realize what they did.

The county charter (and state law) specifies that a working group comprised of the two political parties provide two (2) people from each party to serve on a redistricting map committee. Their job was to balance the population evenly among the council districts. Those four (4) people chose the Clark County auditor to be their chair. The group then began a process of reviewing the voter approved map. It turns out that the map the Charter Review Committee created used pre-2020 census data and was fatally flawed. The districts they created were so imbalanced the map failed to meet state law. The redistricting map committee worked for months to try to create an acceptable compromise map. They submitted several to the County Council, all of which were rejected.

Battle Ground resident Dick Rylander scrutinizes the redistricting process in Clark County.

As you can see from the map proposed by the Charter Review Committee, District 5 was 5,442 below target; District 1 was 1,081 over target, District 2 was 1,630 over target and District 3 was 2.540 over target. Only District 4 was close to being in balance. Something had to change … the rabbit was still loose.

Let’s look at C1 and B2. B2 was offered by the redistricting committee. C1 was constructed at the councilors’ request.

Battle Ground resident Dick Rylander scrutinizes the redistricting process in Clark County.

If you follow this link you can choose which “layers” to see in the upper right on the page: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/4d0f8673deaf43dcbc435423f5a771c5. You can activate as many layers as you want to see the impact of the changes.

As you can see, C1 and B2 are very close. Both appear to achieve the goal of population and compactness. Both are dramatically better than the Charter Commission’s effort.

On March 1, 2022, the councilor representing District 5 resigned. That left two of the existing councilors in one district.

Members of the County Council then went back to the map master (who helped the original redistricting map committee) and asked for a new map to be created. Among other factors, they wanted one that considered which precinct the existing councilors lived. The result was Council Map 1 (C1). This map met the variance and density requirements (as did at least one of the previously rejected maps – B2).

The councilors took C1 to a public hearing on April 13. Public comments raised concerns about C1 including claims of gerrymandering and special treatment for existing councilors. (Question: Was the original Charter Commission map an attempt to gerrymander?) A motion to approve C1 ended in a 2-2 tie (the District 5 council seat is vacant pending appointment by Governor Inslee) and thus was rejected. Council then instructed the map master to go back and create another map (C2?) which doesn’t consider where existing councilors reside.

Map C2 is scheduled to come back to the Council the week of April 18 and then go to the public for comment again on April 27. [Note: The Auditor’s office must have the final map by the 28th of April so the candidate filing week in May can proceed with accurate boundaries.]

Doesn’t this seem like Alice has been trying to catch the elusive rabbit? Is anything what it seems? Have there been any actions that were attempts to encourage certain outcomes?

The original map was so flawed it was unusable. Perhaps the Charter Review Commission could have recommended five districts (instead of 4) but NOT drawn a map (and thus avoided creating the rabbit hole)? Perhaps the Charter Review Committee should have just suggested that a map that is balanced and fair be created based on 2020 census data? That one change would have avoided this entire trip down the rabbit hole. If the Charter Review Commission had not put three (3) councilors in one district Alice wouldn’t have needed to go down the rabbit hole.

This isn’t the simple view through the looking glass that it appears at first glance. The overriding question for this viewer is what the intent of Alice was/is. From my view the council is trying to catch the version of the Rabbit that does the best job ensuring no person or group is disadvantaged; that the districts are as balanced as possible and that the people get representation in council decisions. Whether C1 or C2 or B2 or some other version of the redistricting map gets a majority vote it’s important that we share our views with the councilors. But to do that we need complete and accurate information to help us form our opinion. 

Keep an eye on the County Council’s Calendar: https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/calendar. You should see an April 27 posting for the next public hearing. You will be able to submit comments in writing, testify online or show up at the 6th floor of the Public Service Center on Franklin Street and testify live. Help the councilors catch the Rabbit!

Please get the facts and details before jumping to conclusions. The Rabbit hole is deep with a lot of turns.

Editor’s note – Dick Rylander was one of three candidates appointed by Council Chair Karen Dill Bowerman to fill the vacant District 5 seat. The current members of the Clark County Council failed to reach a majority vote to determine which of the three candidates would be appointed so the process was forwarded to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to appoint one of the three candidates by the end of April. Peter Silliman and Thomas Schenk are the other candidates.

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Rob Anderson
7 months ago

I mostly agree but requesting the staff to create a new map with the goal to keep the councilors in their existing districts is not the solution and, at minimum, has the appearance of corruption.
The gerrymandering should’ve been stopped before now and using their positions to provide themselves a personal benefit of running as an incumbent is something democrats do which would only hurt R’s candidates next election (ie, those R’s are just as corrupt as the democrats, etc).

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