State districting commission advances its proposed legislative map
The commission responsible for drawing Montana’s new legislative districts is close to finishing its once-a-decade duty after advancing a map on Wednesday.
The five-person Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to advance a single map outlining 150 House and Senate districts for the state Legislature to consider when it convenes in January.
According to data compiled by Democrats on the commission, the map could give Republicans a 20-seat advantage in the House and an 8-seat advantage in the Senate, moving seats into Democratic control that are currently held by Republicans.
Chair Maylinn Smith, who sided with Democrats to advance the map, emphasized that the process isn’t over.
“I am hoping that the Legislature is very thoughtful and can give us very specific information about what they like and don’t like as we move the map forward.”
The two Republicans on the commission argue the map goes too far in trying to make districts competitive between the two parties.
Commissioner Jeff Essman says, “This map does have compromises, but I would not call it a compromise map. There are still significant differences.”
Essman says some districts could have been more compact and contiguous, as required by the state Constitution.
Democrats say the map uses past election data to reflect an accurate political division of Democrats and Republicans in Montana, which follows the requirement that no political party is unduly favored.
Democratic Commissioner Denise Juneau says it's a balancing act to include all criteria.
“I wish the public knew how hard it is to draw these maps according to the criteria this is set out. But I think this is a good map to push forward.”
The Legislature will have 30 days to provide suggestions or objections to the map, but does not have the power to amend it. The districting commission will then meet again in February to consider lawmakers’ suggestions before adopting a final map outlining 100 House of representative seats and 50 state Senate seats.