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The public comment period for the nine maps that could shape Montana’s two new congressional districts for the next decade is nearing its end on Oct. 19, and some of the proposed lines carve through Gallatin County.

One map cuts right through Bozeman where Interstate 90 and Rouse meet, placing the bulk of the city into an eastern district and a sliver in a western district.

That line, which was submitted by the pair of Republican commissioners on the Districting and Apportionment Commission, would split the 14 voting precincts that inhabit Bozeman between two districts. Nearly all of those precincts have voted Democratic in federal elections for the past 10 years.

For example, precinct 61A — which includes Frontage Road and accounted for just over 2,100 votes in last year’s congressional race — would be split from neighboring Precinct 65A by the line. Both voted in the majority for Democrats in congressional elections during 2016, 2018 and 2020.

That map is one of three, all submitted by Republican Commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek, that divide Gallatin County. The commission has to follow mandatory criteria for drawing the line, which was hammered out this summer.

Alyson Roberts, executive director of the Gallatin County Democrats, said: “It’s clear to me that quite a few of the maps are trying to break up that group of voters, and would mean that they have less of a chance of electing a representative who reflects their values and less of a chance of electing a representative who will actually understand the needs of their district.”

The Gallatin County Republicans and Gallatin County Republican Women did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed maps.

Essmann said the last line diving Montana into two congressional districts, which was drawn in 1980, had Gallatin County in the western district, but in order to meet the population criteria, a county may have to move.

Keeping population as equal as possible between districts is first on the list, and that criteria raises a key question: which side of the line will counties that run roughly along the Continental Divide will end up on to keep the population virtually equal.

“That’s going to be the decision,” Essmann said. “Will it be Glacier, will it be Lewis and Clark, will it be Broadwater, will it be Gallatin? That’s really the issue, if you want to have two logical and compact districts.”

Along with the criteria were goals that the commission would try to achieve for a congressional map, like not drawing a plan that would favor one political party over the other, keeping communities of interest intact, and considering competitiveness when drawing the line.

Each proposal that Democratic Commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller submitted has Gallatin in a western district, typically grouped with Missoula. However, one map that the Democratic commissioners proposed would create a sort of north/south line. That congressional line would run right through another major population center: Billings.

Gallatin County and Missoula County, both with populations over 100,000, voted Democratic in previous federal elections. Roberts said that Missoula and Bozeman have shared interests, like being home to the state’s largest universities. Keeping similar communities together would help to better represent voters, she said.

One map that would keep Missoula and Bozeman together also carves out a swath of Flathead County. That map creates what Essmann called a “billy goat” district.

Essmann said that “billy goat” districts — districts where the line is drawn in such a way that mountainous land masses create a geographic barrier to travel where Essmann said only a billy goat could travel, as is the case with a map that carves out a chunk of Flathead county — are not contiguous and should be avoided.

“We have legislative districts in this state like that,” Essmann said. “And I don’t think a responsible districting commission should be drawing districts that make it difficult for the candidates to visit with their voters, or for the voters to visit with their candidates.”

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

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