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Big Sky Connection A Montana commission has started the process of drawing maps for the state's legislative seats. Comments from Ella Smith, program director, Montana Women Vote, who says people will have a chance to comment as the process moves along.


Click on the image above for the audio.

Eric Tegethoff

With congressional districts settled, Montana is now drawing state-level voting maps for its legislative seats.

The deadline for members of the public to submit their own maps for Senate and House seats was last week, to the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission. The five members of the commission are now drafting their own maps to present to the public.

Ella Smith, program director for Montana Women Vote, said it is important for people to look closely at the commissioners' maps.

"Take a look at your community, your county, your school district," Smith urged. "Pay attention to how you move about your day and how you move about your week, and what sort of makes sense for your community and how you organize yourself, and how your district is drawn."

Smith noted the commissioners will make their maps available to the public on August 2. Then, at meetings in late August and early September, Montanans can comment on the maps.

Smith explained the commission has established standards for map drawing, including mandatory criteria such as making each district as equal in population as possible and keeping them compact. There are also discretionary or secondary considerations, such as maps not favoring any party, and keeping races competitive. Mapmakers must also keep communities such as tribes intact.

Smith pointed out there was some frustration the congressional map diluted the Native vote, and her group wants to ensure it does not happen with the legislative plan.

"To make sure that Indigenous folks have concentrated political power whenever possible," Smith stressed. "Because that just gives people more of an opportunity to organize in their communities and to make sure that their representatives are being responsive to them."

Unlike many other states where the legislatures draw maps, Montana has an independent redistricting commission. Two members are chosen by Republican leaders, two by Democratic leaders, and a chair is chosen by the state Supreme Court.

Smith added the independent commission is largely able to take partisan politics out of the process.

"A lot of people put a lot of thought into having a bipartisan redistricting commission," Smith stated. "There is a strong history of drawing lines with the intention of being as representative as possible."

The deadline for the redistricting plan is the 10th day of the 2023 legislative session.