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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Proposal would ban the use of voting data when drawing election 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.

Montana Republican lawmakers want to change the state Constitution’s rules for how the state draws political districts. The GOP has objected to the new districts produced by the 2020 independent districting and apportionment commission.

A Republican backed constitutional amendment would prohibit the commission from using political data to draw the maps, and give lawmakers more say over a process that is largely out of their control.

Sen. Tom McGillvray, a Billings Republican, is carrying Senate Bill 534.

“I really think this is a common sense addition to the Constitution. I would bet that any Montanan would say, we don’t want partisan politics in districting,” McGillvray said.

The proposal calls back to a debate that dominated the redistricting commission’s work over the last two years. The five member commission, made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and a nonpartisan chair, agreed that the maps outlining 150 legislative districts should not favor one political party over another. They did not agree on the criteria to accomplish that goal.

The commission looked at past election data to show the political breakdown across Montana. But Republicans argued that Democrats went too far in using it to draw the maps.

Democrats say the only way to achieve political fairness is to draw districts that reflect how Montanans vote. The maps they proposed, which were ultimately adopted, are projected to give Republicans 60 seats, which is fewer than they have now, and Democrats 40 seats in the House of Representatives.

Robyn Morrison with the League of Women Voters opposed the constitutional amendment, saying the Democrats on the commission got it right.

“The makeup of the Legislature should reflect the political diversity of this state,” Morrison said

The proposal has advanced out of committee and will now head to the Senate floor. It must win a two-thirds majority, or 100 votes, to be placed on the next ballot for voters to consider.

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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