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Montana Redistricting Commission Deadlocks Over Maps

October 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Montana Redistricting Commission Deadlocks Over Maps
One of two Congressional District maps under consideration in Montana.

They only had to divide the state into two congressional districts, but in the end, members of the state’s bipartisan Districting and Apportionment Commission simply couldn’t agree on which of two proposed maps was better so they advanced two.

They’ll now meet on Saturday, Oct. 30 to see if they can put the matter to rest. If they can’t, the commission’s nonpartisan chair, attorney Maylinn Smith, says she is ready to cast the tie-breaking vote.

By all accounts, the redistricting process in Montana has gone fairly well.

In fact on Friday, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee commended all involved.

“The proposals mark a critical moment in Montana’s redistricting process,” said Committee President Kelly Burton in a written statement. 

“The two maps that are on the path toward becoming a final congressional map are the product of a transparent public engagement process that spanned the entire state. The Commissioners continue to seek cooperation and collaboration to ensure a fair map is created through this transparent process,” Burton said.

The second of two Congressional District maps under consideration in Montana.

To most outside of Montana, the maps look very similar. Both cut the state into an east district and a west district. Kind of like the candy commercial in which there’s a left Twix and a right Twix.

But the Republicans prefer the map that would include the state’s Lewis and Clark County in the eastern district. Democrats say a map configured that way would unduly favor Republicans in future elections.

The Democrats, meanwhile, want Lewis and Clark County to remain in the western district, but would place the city of Kalispell, the so-called “gateway” to the vast Glacier National Park, into the eastern district.

This, Republicans say, would give Democrats the electoral advantage in the future.

At a commission meeting on Thursday, Smith, who was appointed to the panel by the state’s Supreme Court, said, “I think both of these maps have some really good concessions on both sides, and I would be interested in getting public comment on both of these maps.”

The good news is the commission did make progress on Thursday. When its meeting started, there were still nine proposed maps to choose from.

Critics of the four maps previously proposed by the Republicans unnecessarily split counties and failed to divide the state population evenly between districts.

The five maps initially proposed by the Democrats were equally problematic because of how they handled Montana’s seven Native American reservations.

Some placed all the reservations in one district. Others split them. But no single map appeared to ensure that both districts had strong, franchised Native American populations.

The website FiveThirtyEight said in analysis this week that the tweaking of the western district will ultimately determine how competitive it is. It said the eastern district would be “ruby-red” no matter which map is ultimately chosen.

Interestingly enough, this is the first time since 1993 that Montana has had more than one congressional district.

The commission has until Nov. 14 to make a final decision.

Whatever happens, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee said in a statement that it “remains committed to a redistricting process that will culminate in fair maps which ensure Montanans from all walks of life can elect leaders of their choosing.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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