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February 8, 2012 at 1:52 PM

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Vancouver activist asks court to toss state redistricting plan

Updated at 2:28 p.m. with comments from Tim Ceis

Washington's political maps for the 2012 elections may not be settled after all.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission agreed on new legislative and congressional districts in January. Their work included the creation of the state's new 10th Congressional District centered on Olympia.

But now the commission's work has been challenged by John Milem, a Vancouver man who has closely followed the redistricting process.

Milem filed a petition Wednesday with the Washington State Supreme Court, asking that the plan be tossed out.

Milem, a retired attorney, argues the commission flouted constitutional and legal requirements by failing to draw districts that are compact, convenient and encourage electoral competition.

In an interview, Milem said the commission's priority of protecting incumbents was evident in the new maps, as incumbents of both parties got safer seats.

Milem is correct on that point.

Just look U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert's 8th Congressional District. Previously a suburban swing district, the 8th was redrawn by the commission to become solidly Republican. The new district lost its Bellevue and Mercer Island portions and now crosses the Cascades to pick up Wenatchee and Ellensburg.

Similarly, the 2nd and 9th Districts were redrawn to be safer for their Democratic incumbents, Rick Larsen and Adam Smith.

"We've lost electoral competition in those districts as a result of the plan," said Milem.

That holds true for many state legislative districts too. Milem says partisan considerations trumped the goal of drawing logical district boundaries, leading to some strange contortions.

For example, Milem describes the shape of the 18th legislative district near Vancouver as "one arm short of a swastika."

Milem has followed the state's redistricting process for decades out of an interest in good government. He followed the commission across the state to attend every public hearing in 2011, and the commission even formally thanked him for his advice.

But Milem says a legal challenge like his is long overdue, arguing that previous redistricting panels drew even worse maps.

He submitted his own plans to the commission showing how maps could be drawn free of partisan considerations.

Whether Milem has a shot at overturning the redistricting plan is not clear. He is representing himself in the challenge.

Tim Ceis, the former Seattle deputy mayor who was one of the Democratic members of the redistricting commission, said he does not believe Milem's challenge will be successful.

"We think we are well within the requirements of the constitution and state law and federal law in how we did redistricting," he said.

If the state Supreme Court does invalidate the political maps, the court would have to draw up its own maps by March 1.





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