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A final congressional map could be produced this weekend that splits Montana into two congressional districts, and one of the finalists scoops Bozeman into a western district, cutting through three voting precincts in the process.

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission was scheduled to have a tentative final map ready last week, but instead put forth two — one each from the Republican and Democratic commissioners — for public comment. Those two maps create familiar eastern and western districts, but at the price of cutting through two major counties: Gallatin and Flathead.

The Democratic proposed map keeps Gallatin County whole, but draws a horizontal line through the top of Flathead Lake. The Republican proposed map keeps Bozeman, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Four Corners, Three Forks and Manhattan together in a western district, but puts Gallatin Gateway, Big Sky and West Yellowstone into an eastern district.

That map draws a line through three precincts, two of which have voted Republican in the last three congressional races and are home to Three Forks and Gallatin Gateway. The other precinct that has typically voted Democratic.

A sliver of that Democratic-voting area includes a portion of Frontage Road that juts out of the Bozeman city limits and would be split from the rest of the voting base if the Republican map were to be chosen.

If that map is chosen, those three voting areas will have three different ballot types sent out by the Gallatin County Elections Office.

Gallatin County Elections Administrator Eric Semerad said in an email that the split could cause confusion for voters as to which district they are in, especially in the three precincts the line could cut through.

“Depending upon which legislative districts may be split, additional ballot styles will mean a greater variety of ballots being issued at the polling places and increased diligence on our part in ensuring that voters receive the correct ballot style,” Semerad said.

The argument of not unduly favoring a political party, or keeping the districts competitive, was made by both Democrats and Republicans last week. Commission Chair Maylinn Smith said in an interview that it would not be realistic for both districts to not unduly favor a political party.

The maps put forth last week, both Republican and Democratic, create two districts where Republicans have a slight advantage, according to political polling website FiveThirtyEight. The Democratic map is only slightly more competitive, however.

Jeremy Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Carroll College, said that there is no way to draw a line without affecting competitiveness.

“The Democratic map makes the western district somewhat more competitive, then the Republican map makes it less so, which is not surprising from a political standpoint,” Johnson said.

Only a trio of the eleven maps submitted for public comment by the commission had highly competitive districts. All three were submitted by Democratic commissioners, and created two versions of a southwestern district and one north to south district. Those maps, however, are out of the running for the final map.

Democrats running for Congress have consistently won only three counties in the state since 2010: Deer Lodge, Silver Bow and Bighorn, according to election data from the Montana Secretary of State’s website. Silver Bow and Deer Lodge counties are both in a western district in the Republican and Democratic maps, while Big Horn is in an eastern district in both maps.

In the last decade, a Democrat running for the then at-large district has only won Gallatin County three times — 2020, 2018 and 2016.

But the possibility of a third map, one created from a consensus of the commissioners, exists. Smith said she left the door open for the commissioners to try and hammer out a map together by giving more time for meetings on Oct. 30, Nov. 4 and a possible meeting on Nov. 9.

She said that there will be a map ready by this Saturday.

“This is too important of a decision to not try and be as thoughtful as we can, and reach consensus if at all possible,” 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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