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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Lawmakers begin reviewing proposed legislative district maps

A close-up of a proposed districting map showing some of the proposed Senate districts from the Tentative Commission Plan-2.
Montana Districting Commission
The five-person Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission on Dec. 21 voted 3-2 to advance a single map outlining 150 House and Senate districts for the Montana Legislature to consider when it convenes in January.

The state Legislature created a special committee to comb through the maps outlining Montana’s 150 legislative districts. The maps were created by Montana’s five-person Districting and Apportionment Commission after more than two years of work. Lawmakers don’t have the power to amend the maps, but they are tasked with making recommendations before the maps are finalized later this year.

Commission chair Maylinn Smith used her tiebreaking vote last month to side with Democrats and advance the maps of the legislative districts. Smith said the maps are not set in stone and she looks forward to feedback from the Legislature.

Republicans in the statehouse have largely echoed criticism from Republicans on the commission, saying that Democrats drew the lines to give themselves a disproportionate political advantage. Democrats refute that claim and say that their proposals offer political fairness in elections.

Speaker of the House Matt Regier of Kalispell says that after seeing the draft map, some in his caucus want to change how the commission works.

“If the map goes through the way it is, there’s a lot of legislators that feel disenfranchised,” he says.

A yet-to-be introduced proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Green of Hardin to change the state Constitution, would create an algorithm to guide the line drawing process. Speaker Regier says several other Republican lawmakers are also looking to change the process.

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott of Helena says that Democrats are looking forward to providing feedback to help refine the district maps and will push back against any proposal made to change the redistricting process.

“You’ll see some fierce opposition and a real protection of a commission that is built in a way where there has to be compromise,” Abbott says.

A first meeting of the Legislature’s special committee has not been scheduled, but the non-binding feedback from legislators is due in less than a month.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.