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There are less than two weeks left for Montana to submit a final congressional map, and the ticking clock is growing louder after the redistricting commission failed to put forward a final map this weekend.

On Saturday, Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission once again punted on choosing a final map splitting the state into two congressional districts, opting to hear more public comment at another meeting Thursday.

If a map is not submitted to the Montana Secretary of State’s office by Nov. 14, the commission could face a lawsuit for not hitting the 90-day deadline set forth by the Montana Constitution.

The meeting Thursday is just 10 days before that deadline.

Republican and Democratic commissioners submitted the newest pair of maps, dubbed Congressional Proposals 12 and 13, just two days before the Oct. 30 meeting.

The newest Republican map, CP 12, and the Democratic map, CP 11, which was submitted Oct. 21, are the top two contenders for the final choice.

Second Republican Map Proposal: CP 12

The second proposal from Republican commissioners — CP 12 — would keep Gallatin whole, while cutting through Pondera County. This proposal would put Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell in a western district, and place Helena in an eastern district. 

Democratic Map for Oct. 30 Public Comment: CP 11

A map submitted by Democrat representatives — CP 11 — to Montana’s Districting and Reapportionment Commission for public comment.

Commission Chair Maylinn Smith opted for another round of public comment on Saturday because of a lack of public input and analysis on one of the contenders: CP 12.

Neither of the maps that have the best shot of being chosen as a final map split Gallatin County. However, two of the proposals — CP 13, submitted by the Democratic commissioners, and CP 10, submitted by the Republican commissioners — do.

Republican Map for Oct. 30 Comment: CP 10

A map submitted by Republican representatives — CP 10 — to Montana’s Districting and Reapportionment Commission for public comment.

Second Democratic Map Proposal: CP 13

The second proposal from Democratic commissioners — CP 13 — would split Gallatin, Lewis and Clark and Pondera counties. Bozeman and Helena would be put into a western district, along with Missoula and Kalispell. 

Smith said she felt the CP 12 map did address concerns voiced during public comment — like splitting Gallatin County — but she needed more time before she could choose.

“I would’ve loved to have been able to say ‘this is the map going forward’ on Saturday, but I sort of feel that I need to look at what’s going to be best for Montana in the long run,” Smith said in an interview.

Chair Smith emailed the commissioners after the Oct. 21 meeting, urging the two Democratic and two Republican representatives to reach consensus. The two new maps came as a result of that request.

The new Republican map divides only Pondera County, which hit the goal of splitting only one county that Smith brought forth at the Oct. 21 meeting. The map places all of Lewis and Clark County into an eastern district and keeps Flathead County in a western district.

Democratic commissioners decided to stick with their originally proposed — CP 11 — map on Saturday. That map splits Flathead County, placing Kalispell to the east and keeping Whitefish in the west.

“We got to do it by the 14th,” said Democratic Commissioner Joe Lamson. “We realize that. I think the chair’s intention was to have this done after the Saturday meeting, but with the developments that we had it was only fair, prudent and good policy to move it on.”

Republican Commissioner Dan Stusek said in an interview that he and fellow commissioner Jeff Essmann listened to public comment and criticisms of their prior proposal, CP 10, when creating the new map.

The other Republican proposal, which is still in consideration, placed Bozeman in a western district, and the rest of Gallatin County to the east.

Stusek said that the newest map, CP 12, was a product of compromise and concessions to the Democratic commissioners.

The biggest issue is dividing the state’s population as equally as possible. Flathead County belongs in a western district, Stusek said, but that leaves two counties that have to move to meet population equality.

“Our thought is that Flathead County makes a lot more sense being in the West as a whole than Gallatin and Lewis and Clark,” Stusek said. “But you can get one of those two in the West, but you can’t get both and keep Flathead County in the West where it belongs.”

Smith plans to choose a map at the next meeting on Nov. 4, and from there a work session is scheduled on Nov. 9 to tweak and refine that map.

“I will have to move a map forward at that time, I just have to,” Smith said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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