Voting is a fundamental right that is very important to democracy. One of its more important aspects is the district maps drawn by officials. Elections for the U.S. House of Representatives occur every two years and are heavily influenced by how these maps are drawn. This means that the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission's upcoming deadline to redraw district voting lines will certainly have some major effects on how Montana is represented in the democratic process.
The commission redraws this map every 10 years after data from the census has been gathered, processed and used to appropriately award a number of seats for the House of Representatives. The members of the commission are selected before the census, with the majority and minority leaders from both houses of the State Legislature appointing members. Those four members select a fifth member who will be the commission’s presiding officer. The commission must then complete a congressional redistricting plan within 90 days.
What makes this decade’s session particularly interesting is that Montana will be split into two congressional districts. This means that, as opposed to recent years, in which the state was given one seat in the House, the state will be split with each district electing a representative.
There are a multitude of implications that may come as a result of this action. Not only does it mean that the state of Montana has more voting power on the national level, but it also means that voters in Montana will not necessarily be represented in the House by a single party. This means two congressional districts, opposing parties or even persons with no party affiliation, could represent the state.
As of Saturday, Oct. 30, the Commission was considering two proposals with both maps placing Bozeman in the western district. The process by which these careful and deliberate lines are being drawn are facing scrutiny from recent movements to do away with what is commonly termed “gerrymandering.” Gerrymandering is the altering of district lines in such a manner as to give one party a clear advantage over the other in elections. The two Democrats on the commission favored a map that placed the Republican stronghold Kalispell in the eastern district, which would give Democrats a fair shot at winning the western district. Republican members of the commission argued and proposed a map that placed Helena in the eastern district and Kalisbell in the western district.
The commission met on Saturday, Oct. 30, with the intention of picking a map. However, the proceedings ultimately reached an impasse and the decision has been delayed until the commission meets again on Thursday, Nov. 4.
Members of the commission stress the importance of public participation in the process and encourage residents of Montana to get involved. Voters can attend meetings and view proposed maps by visiting the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission website at https://leg.mt.gov/districting/.