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Originally published Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Redistricting panel OKs new political maps

With less than two hours to spare, members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission signed off on plans Sunday night that will reshape legislative and congressional maps for the next decade.

The Associated Press

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SEATTLE —

With less than two hours to spare, members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission signed off on plans Sunday night that will reshape legislative and congressional maps for the next decade.

The panel, which faced an 11:59 p.m. New Year's Day deadline, transmitted the new boundaries to the Legislature shortly after 10 p.m. Lawmakers will still have an opportunity to make minor modifications. Commission members met in Olympia throughout the weekend to debate and deliberate how the state's new political boundaries will look.

The commission had announced a broad agreement Wednesday on the most-watched aspect of their work - borders for congressional districts. Because of population gains, Washington was awarded a new, 10th congressional district following the latest federal census.

But the commission was vexed by details of certain state legislative districts, particularly in Yakima and Spokane.

If the panel made up of two Republicans and two Democrats had failed to reach an agreement, the state Supreme Court would've taken control of the process. The final votes Sunday night were unanimous.

Many states leave redistricting to the state Legislature, but in 1983 Washington voters created the current system with a bipartisan panel, hoping to avoid partisan squabbles and politicking that can occur in statehouses. However Washington's way of creating new districts is not without its own critics, including at least one of the panel members.

Commissioner Tom Huff, a Republican, said he was frustrated by the redistricting process, saying it was too long and that it was disappointing the panel stretched its work until just before the deadline.

"I think it needs a little tweaking, I think it needs a little fixing," Huff said.

Democratic member Tim Ceis said he was "very proud" of the final map.

"This is a very interesting process," Ceis said. "Perhaps the timeline could be shortened. You always end up working right up to the deadline....I think it's a good thing we only do this every 10 years."

The congressional plan has significant changes for western Washington.

The new, 10th District is centered in the Democratic stronghold of Olympia. The 9th District, currently represented by Rep. Adam Smith, will become the state's first majority-minority district because it is slightly less than 50 percent white. It covers areas south and east of Seattle, including Federal Way, Renton and Bellevue.

The 1st District, now held by Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, who is running for governor, will stretch east of the Interstate 5 corridor, from Medina to rural King County. Republican Rep. Dave Reichert's District will shift further east and include communities thought to be bolster Republicans' chances of holding on to that seat.

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