Washington state map color-shaded by degree of population density. Red areas are most dense, while green are least. (Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management)

Public hearings on the remapping of Washington state’s congressional and legislative districts kicked off last week, a process that will continue through the middle of summer as the five-member Washington State Redistricting Commission takes their road show to at least 11 more locations across the state (scroll down to end for the most recent schedule) before the tour wraps in mid-July.

Residents in the Bellingham area will have an opportunity to discuss redistricting with the Commission at a hearing Thursday evening. The forum will open its doors to the public 6:00 p.m. on the campus of Western Washington University in the Academic West Building, room AW204. Commission business will begin at approximately 6:30 p.m.

But the Commission’s lack of haste getting to this stage has disappointed some on either side of the partisan divide, scores of politicians and campaigners who are idling hot in anticipation of knowing how the dirt will be divided in next year’s important elections.

Washington received its census data in February, but lags behind its peer group of the other nine states using a commission-based process for redistricting. Most other commission process states have at least generated hypothetical maps to focus debate; Washington’s commission intentionally moves forward into the public hearing phase without even a hypothetical map to use as a catalyst for conversation.

Cruising in to take the checkered flag, Missouri’s legislature already brushed aside a gubernatorial veto to approve its new map, though partisan bickering will almost certainly result in a courtroom battle before the matter is laid completely to rest.

Though the Commission officially has until January 1st of next year to present its plan to the public, Republicans have advocated getting a proposal out for review by November 1st. A source close to the redistricting process suggests Democrats may be warming to that date.

If bipartisan consensus to shift the Redistricting Commission into second gear survives through the summer, having a tentatively solid date circled on the calendar could alleviate some of impatience among Republican and Democratic strategists who understand all too well that time is the most precious resource in politics, the only one that can neither be replaced nor substituted.

The limiting factor on the Commission’s speed is good old-fashioned politics. So far the bipartisan Commission appears determined to head off efforts to politicize the remapping endeavor.

A case in point about how the process may be befuddling politicos came via antsy congressional wannabe Denny Heck (D), who jumped the gun and filed as a candidate in the not-yet-defined Tenth Congressional District, as Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner reported Monday.

With political operatives already been questing for information about the Tenth like Ponce de Leon drilling the natives for directions to the Fountain of Youth, Heck’s erroneous filing will only fuel to runaway speculation about Washington’s newest district and the impact it may have on surrounding districts. An expedient way to silence the rumor mill is to produce an actual map sooner rather than later.

Politics should not strictly be a factor since the redistricting process is technically governed by simple math, but as even a studious second-grader knows, there is always more than one way to get to ten. The Commission’s challenge is to stick to demographic analysis and minimize consideration of other tempting aspects.

Overall, Washington’s population between 2000 and 2010 grew to slightly less than 6.725 million residents – an increase of a little more than 830,000 – according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Though the entire state is growing, the growth has not been uniform. Over ten years, the changes in density that typically occur in response to local economic conditions have created inequities in each resident’s representation in the State Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Redistricting is the important means to recalibrate the system and restore balance.

Each of the 49 districts represented in the State Legislature must have a nearly equal number of residents. The same is true for congressional districts, with the added wrinkle this year that Washington’s population relative to the nation’s also grew, gaining the state a new Tenth Congressional District representative to be elected in 2012.

The Redistricting Commission encourages residents to attend the public forums in their communities. The most current published schedule for the remaining public hearings is listed below. Doors will open at 6:00 p.m. and meetings will commence at 6:30 p.m., unless otherwise indicated. Please check back on the Commission’s website for updates and additional information.

Bellingham – Thursday, May 26
Western Washington University, Academic West Building, AW204, Bellingham, WA

Pasco – Tuesday, June 7
Location to be determined

Yakima – Wednesday, June 8
Location to be determined

Wenatchee – Thursday, June 9
Location to be determined

Seattle – Monday, June 13
Location to be determined

Auburn – Tuesday, June 14
Location to be determined

Bremerton – Thursday, June 30
Location to be determined

Tacoma – Monday, July 11
Location to be determined

Spokane – Tuesday, July 12
Location to be determined

Walla Walla – Wednesday, July 13
Location to be determined

Moses Lake – Thursday, July 14
Location to be determined