In the coming weeks, Montanans can attend any one of 14 public hearings on plans to redraw state legislative districts. We do this every 10 years to comply with the U.S. and Montana constitutions and the most recent Census counts.
For the past year, as the Democratic members of the Districting Commission, we have been meeting with hundreds of Montanans to come up with a redistricting plan that guarantees our right to one person, one vote and is fair for all Montanans – Republicans, Independents and Democrats. The result is known as the Communities Plan.
There are five statewide plans for public consideration. Four of the plans emphasize one redistricting criterion at the expense of the other criteria. The Communities Plan combines the positive aspects of all the other plans. It complies with all mandatory redistricting criteria and creates a balance among the discretionary redistricting criteria.
Here are some of the key aspects of the Communities Plan:
• Upholds one person, one vote: All districts comply with the mandatory population equality criteria and have an overall mean population deviation of just 1.18 percent. This achieves a lower population deviation than two of the three Republican-requested plans.
• Keeps small towns and communities together: The Communities Plan avoids splitting more small towns and communities than any of the five proposed plans. The GOP-requested plans split considerably more communities, including Clancy, Montana City, Glasgow, Deer Lodge, Hamilton, Livingston, Polson and Laurel.
• Protects minority voting rights: Our plan recognizes the long-standing and unique communities of interests among Montana’s American Indian citizens and fully complies with the federal Voting Rights Act.
• Balances communities of interests: Our plan represents the rich diversity of Montana interests reflected by our urban, suburban and rural communities. It takes into consideration neighborhoods, school districts, trade areas, transportation corridors, media markets, Indian reservations, and economic, social and cultural interests.
• Creates fair and competitive districts: Consistent with Montanans’ independent spirit, the Communities Plan promotes fair and competitive legislative districts. The plan maximizes the opportunity for all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, to run for office based on the strength of their ideas and campaign efforts.
We are concerned that all three of the Republican-requested plans appear to heavily “stack the political deck” in the GOP’s favor. As they accomplished in the 1990s, the GOP is once again trying to create a plan that sets up complete Republican control of both houses of the Legislature for the next 10 years.
Our Republican colleagues have criticized us for using computer software to analyze plans using dozens of demographic measures, including election data. The Republicans purchased the exact same Maptitude software we did. In addition, the Republican commissioners have access to sophisticated election databases maintained by the GOP state party and the Montana Chamber of Commerce.
Now is the time the commission needs to hear from you. All the proposed plans are just that, proposals. They will change as a result of public testimony. We look forward to hearing from Montanans at the upcoming regional public hearings. The plans and hearings schedule are posted on the commission website at www.leg.mt.gov/districting.
Pat Smith from Arlee and Joe Lamson of Helena are Democratic members of the state Districting Commission.