Sen. Emily Randall (D - 26th District) during her swearing in ceremony. (Credit: Washington State Democrats)

Redistricting is sure to have a big impact on elections this fall, and overall Washington State Democrats continue to be in a strong position.

This is in no way thanks to Washington State’s redistricting process — which is deeply flawed and nearly failed to produce a result last year. Overall Washingtonians have just heavily favored Democrats in recent elections, which works out pretty well even with districts drawn in a compromised way that was negotiated during a rushed last-minute bargain between two partisan sides of equal voting measure.

Without Donald Trump on the ballot and pandemic frustrations at the top of voters’ minds, some swing voters could swing the other way. But the fundamentals still favor Democrats, despite their efforts to sabotage themselves by botching efforts to pass key housing and climate bills. Stumbles aside, Democrats’ election pitch seems to center around passing a big transportation package and ratcheting up a few gun control measures, which they hope will buoy them in swing districts.

26 seats lean solidly Democrat

Twelve districts lean Republican, 26 lean Democratic, and 11 fall in the 45–55% competitive range, according to Dave’s Redistricting, a website that is an excellent resource for those looking to get a handle on the new election maps. That partisan split means that Democrats would have to lose on favorable terrain to lose control of the Washington State Legislature. Even if Republicans sweep competitive districts, they will still end up with 23 of 49 districts — not enough to take back control.

Seven districts are majority-minority districts, with six of those strong favorites for Democrats. The exception is the new 15th District, which is heavily Latino but a tossup district with a slight edge for the GOP. The difference here is that Yakima Valley Latinos do not break for Democrats as strongly as some other Latino communities and their voting rates are very low, while Whites in the district are resoundingly Republican and relatively reliable voters.

Only half of Senate seats are up in 2022, and Republicans have some vulnerable seats like the 42nd District to defend. This suggests the House is where they could make their play, but even then it’s a tall order, barring a tidal wave year for conservatives. Nonetheless, Democratic leaders have warned it could be a tough year for their candidates, given mounting voter frustrations and a Democrat in the White House to pin them on — fairly or not.

Old map

The 2012 map redrew the 49 districts with each having just over 137,000 residents as of the 2010 Census.
Washington has 49 legislative districts with one senator and two representatives each. The old 2012 boundaries are shown here overlaid on the 39 counties. (Washington State)

To see the exact way each legislative district changed shaped, the Redistricting Commission created helpful maps delineating territory that was added and cuts. In some of the hotly contested districts, the changes are fairly minimal and will conceivably preserve the status quo for the time being. Below is the new legislative map for the next decade, barring a successful legal challenge.

New map

Here are the LD boundaries for the 2022 election. (Washington Redistricting Commission)

The Washington State Senate’s current split is 28-21 in favor of the Democrats, allowing them to lose three votes from their caucus and still carry votes. The current breakdown of the House is 57-41, allowing them a buffer of seven votes to still carry legislation without Republican help (which is seldom offered).

A close up of the Puget Sound region. (Washington Redistricting Commission)

Blue leaners: 24th and 42nd

Among the 11 competitive districts, two lean fairly strongly toward Democrats: the 24th and the 42nd, where Republicans stand to lose a senate seat. With the death of Sen. Doug Ericksen, who also served in the Trump Administration, due to Covid complications, the 42nd will have an open senate seat plus two Democratic House seats to defend. Two-term incumbent Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) is running for the open senate seat, while first-termer Alicia Rule is running for her first re-election. Blaine City Councilmember Richard May and Joe Timmons, a community liaison for Governor Jay Inslee based in Bellingham, have emerged as the two Democratic frontrunners (at least based on fundraising totals) to replace Shewmake in the House. The district hasn’t changed much geographically in the new maps.

The 24th is represented by all Democrats and its 53.6% to 44.8% split should allow competent Democrats to continue to get elected. (Though, The Urbanist is loath to call Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and Rep. Mike Chapman competent.) Growing slower than the state average, the 24th added population by expanding a bit in Aberdeen.

True Tossups: 10th, 17th, and 26th

The 10th, 17th, and 26th are true tossups with neither party managing a 50% share within their borders based on recent election results. Democrats are defending Sen. Emily Randall’s seat this year in the 26th, and the district’s partisan spread is more favorable than the one she pulled off her upset on in 2018. Still, it’s sure to be a hotly contested race. Her opponent, Rep. Jesse Young (R-Gig Harbor), is raking in gobs of money, with a quarter million dollars raised already.

The district gained some territory west of Bremerton, but lost some a sliver south of Port Orchard. (WA Redistricting Commission)

The 10th and 17th Senate seats aren’t up until 2024, but Democrats are defending a House seat (Dave Paul) in the 10th. Other than that, Democrats have pickup opportunities in these three districts rather than turf to defend. The 10th did most of its expanding in Arlington, which isn’t a particularly blue suburb, hence the continued tossup nature of the district.

The 10th District continues to include all of Whidbey and Camano, but different parts of Mount Vernon now and a new swath of Arlington and less Cascadian foothills. (WA Redistricting Commission)

Somehow Democrats don’t appear to be running anyone in the 17th yet, despite an even partisan split on paper. Maybe some late entries are still to come. In the old 17th, Governor Inslee endorsed Democratic challenger Daniel Smith in 2020, but he came up nine points short of unseating Rep. Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver). The district has swung in the direction of Democrats, but only to the point of being a tossup.

The 17th has changed a lot, losing Salmon Creek, but gaining Camas and a lot of Cascadian forest to the east. (WA Redistricting Commission)

Even if Democrats fail to hold Randall’s Senate seat, they could cancel out the loss by flipping the 42nd. If they win both, they’ll be looking at a 29-20 Senate majority, barring an unforeseen stumble in more favorable districts.

The next tier of Senate races where Democrats could conceivably be put on the defensive is the 44nd, where Sen. John Lovick is a well-established brand, and the 47th, where Sen. Mona Das is seeking her first re-election after unseating Republican Sen. Joe Fain in 2018. Both districts got bluer still with redistricting. It would be surprising to see an upset in either one. Lovick’s opponent has reported zero campaign contributions so far, while Sen. Das has raised six times as much as her Republican opponent, Kent City Council President Bill Boyce.

Light-red leaners: 15th, 18th, 25th, and 35th

In another four districts — the 15th, 18th, 25th, and 35th — Republicans have managed to exceed 50% voter alignment, but only by a fraction, not yet reaching 51%. The catch for them is they control all of these districts already, which could foist their incumbents into tough races and spread out GOP resources.

The 35th District ceded some of Bremerton to the 26th District put gained some Olympia exurbs, especially in Tumwater, to the south. (WA Redistricting Commission)

Perhaps, Sen. Tim Sheldon, an independent former Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, sensed this. He recently announced his retirement from the 35th District Senate seat he has represented since 1997 (with a six-year stint in the House before that). This opens up a pickup opportunity for Democrats — albeit working against a slight Republican advantage in the district. Democrat Julianne Gale, a regenerative farmer from Mason County, has stepped up to run. She will square off with Rep. Drew MacEwan (R-Union), who is trying to make the move over to the Senate, which opens us his house seat. MacEwan has raised $100,000 to Gale’s $23,000, so far. Diplomat Sandra Kaiser is the leading Democrat vying for the open House seat and could potentially give the Republican to emerge from the primary a tough race

The new 18th District will pull in closer to Vancouver. (WA Redistricting Commission)

In the 15th District, Sen. Jim Honeyford is 83 years old, has been office since the 1990s, is a fan of the mass incarceration of “colored” people, and is now defending a district only favoring Republicans by just 1.5 points on paper. He’s yet to announce his retirement, so he’s apparently running for re-election. Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Zillah) has also been in his seat since 1999, but is a relatively spry 69 years old. No Democrats have stepped into the fold yet in these 15th District races according to the PDC.

The 15th shifted to the east, losing the Yakima Indian Reservation and a chunk of the Yakima Metro area. (WA Redistricting Commission)

In the 18th, the ridiculous exurban horseshoe shape of the district is gone, but it continues to be composed of moderately conservative suburbia stretching from Salmon Creek to the western half of Battle Ground. With a three-point edge, Republicans are likely to hold on — at least for now — in this district in fast-growing Clark County. Democrat John Zingale (who was Washington State’s teacher of the year in 2019), and ICU nurse Duncan Camacho are running in House Position 1 and 2, respectively, to give it the old college try.

The new 25th District lost Fife and Parkland but gained a little to the eastern and southern edge. (WA Redistricting Commission)

The 25th District had been safe ground for Republicans, but it continues to slowly drift away from them. Republicans hold a three-point edge in the new map, which continues to be anchored by Puyallup and South Hill, but dropped Fife and a piece of Parkland. No Democrats have registered with the PDC yet in this district.

The red leaners: 12th, 14th, 31st, and 39th

Finally there are four districts — 12th, 14th, 31st, and 39th — where Republican voting share is in the 52% to 54% range. These voting demographics favor the Grand Old Party to win, but if demographic shifts continue and a particularly strong Democratic candidate were to come along, they could be in danger.

On the flip side, the 19th, where Democrats held seats as recently as 2019, has continued to drift further toward Republicans in the new map. This rural corner of the state — anchored on opposite corners by the economically-depressed logging towns of Longview and Aberdeen, which is the ancestral home of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana — just increasingly favors conservative politicians, even as they lurch toward fascism. Cobain is rolling over in his grave.

Below is the partisan and demographic split of each of the state legislative districts via Dave’s Redistricting. Dem = Democrat, Rep = Republican, VAP = Voting age population. The racial demographics are based on the voting age population.

LDDemRepTotal VAPWhiteMinorityHispanicBlackAsianNativePacific
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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.