Back in August, the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission spent a full week hammering out a preliminary plan for redrawing state legislative districts to reflect the 2010 census.
The five-member bipartisan commission will meet again next week for the first time since August. Decisions made yet this fall may determine the final plan that will be in place for elections in 2014 through 2022.
Although the preliminary plan garnered unanimous approval in August, commissioners are expected to introduce amendments, probably at a meeting and public hearing scheduled for Nov. 15 in Helena.
Also on the Nov. 15 agenda is discussion about how to pair the 100 representative districts into 50 Senate districts. As much as possible, those pairings should follow the same criteria as the representative district apportionment, keeping Senate districts within county and city lines when possible. The decisions need to make sense for the people in the district. There assignment of holdover senators to the new districts also should make sense for citizens. If sitting senators find themselves assigned out of the area that elected them, it should be because voter equity and the population shift required the change — not because of which political party the incumbent represents.
The panel is expected to take action on Senate districts and discuss plan amendments at another meeting in late November. On Dec. 19, the commission will hold a public hearing on a complete proposed plan. After that, the panel must vote on the plan it is required to submit to the 2013 Legislature.
Lawmakers may make recommendations on the plan, but the final decision will be up to the commission, which will take final action sometime after the Legislature adjourns.
Although decisions won’t be set until next spring, the details being mapped out this fall matter tremendously. Even those of us who cannot attend the Helena hearings can find out what the commission is proposing by listening to the meetings via Internet or visiting the commission website, which provides detailed, colored maps of the proposed legislative districts. Let’s keep an eye on this important public process.