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Originally published Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 5:48 PM

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Vancouver petitioner says not so fast on state's redistricting plan

A Vancouver man wants the state Supreme Court to toss out Washington's new legislative and congressional maps.

Seattle Times political reporter

Challenge to redistricting plan

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A Vancouver man is asking the state Supreme Court to toss out Washington's new legislative and congressional district maps, arguing the bipartisan panel that drew them up flouted constitutional and legal guidelines.

John Milem, a retired attorney, filed a petition with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, seeking to invalidate the maps.

Milem, who has closely followed the redistricting process for decades, argued in his court filing that the new districts don't meet legal requirements for compactness, equal representation and encouraging electoral competition.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission agreed on new legislative and congressional district maps in January. The plan included the creation of the state's new 10th Congressional District centered on Olympia.

The panel was made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, so its work was bipartisan — but not nonpartisan.

The commissioners made no secret of their intent to largely protect incumbents of both parties. And Milem said that was evident in the congressional maps.

For example, Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert's 8th Congressional District, previously a suburban swing district, was redrawn to become more rural and solidly Republican.

Similarly, the 2nd and 9th congressional districts were redrawn to be safer for their Democratic incumbents, U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Adam Smith.

"We've lost electoral competition in those districts as a result of the plan," said Milem.

Despite a state constitutional requirement that districts be, to the extent possible, "compact and convenient," Milem pointed to several legislative districts that appear oddly shaped. For example, he described the 18th Legislative District near Vancouver as "one arm short of a swastika."

Milem submitted his own plans to the commission showing how maps could be drawn free of partisan considerations.

Whether Milem has a shot at overturning the redistricting plan is not clear.

No redistricting plan has been overturned by the courts since the current redistricting commission system began in 1991. However, courts did overturn Legislature-drawn redistricting plans in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tim Ceis, the former Seattle deputy mayor who was one of the Democratic members of the redistricting commission, said he's confident the maps will pass legal muster.

"We think we are well within the requirements of the constitution and state law and federal law," he said.

If the state Supreme Court were to nix the maps, the court would have to draw up alternative plans by March 1.

Redistricting is done once a decade to reflect the latest census and population changes.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.

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