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Commissioners weigh in on congressional redistricting

by LYNNETTE HINTZE
Daily Inter Lake | September 15, 2021 12:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners have recommended to the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission that Flathead County be kept within a Western Montana congressional district.

In a letter sent Monday to the Helena-based commission, the commissioners further stipulated their desire that Flathead County not be split when developing the plan for a second U.S. House district.

“Your goal should be to draw appropriate boundaries around geographic areas such that each district results in ‘fair’ representation,” the commissioners wrote.

They pointed out that Flathead County includes 12 state house districts and six senate districts, and stressed “these districts should remain in one congressional district to avoid distorting representation.”

Redistricting, the act of drawing new political boundaries, is underway for both the new U.S. House district and state legislative boundaries.

Population growth boosted Montana above the 1 million mark, with the U.S. Census showing a state population of 1,084,225. The state lost its second U.S. House seat in the early 1990s as population dipped below the threshold needed to sustain two congressional seats.

In Montana, a five-member Districting and Apportionment Commission has authority under the state constitution to draw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts every 10 years. Using population data from the most recent U.S. Census, the commission is tasked with drawing districts with roughly the same number of people in them.

In July, the commission adopted the criteria it will use to draw the new congressional district.

Key criteria include “keeping district populations as equal as possible, ensuring districts are compact and contiguous, and protecting minority voter rights through compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act,” according to a Montana Free Press article published July 9.

In their letter, the Flathead commissioners pointed to unprecedented growth in the county and the county’s proximity to Glacier National Park.

“Preserving the county as an entire district will enable a representative to serve a homogenous district and provide strength in numbers to address the online growth challenges to the county,” the commissioners’ letter stated. “Our vote and representation as we manage this surge of people should not be diluted."

A Western Montana congressional district that includes all of Flathead County also provides for an easier election process, the commissioners asserted.

“Any attempt to ignore this and split Flathead County would be seen by the citizens of Flathead County as a deliberate manipulation of district boundaries to enhance the electoral prospects of a particular political interest,” they stressed.

The U.S. Census Bureau last month sent its final 2020 apportionment figures to states, which started a 90-day deadline for the Montana commission to submit a proposed congressional map showing two districts.

News editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.