The 2020 U.S. Census made history for Montana, in that the state increased its population to the point that a second Congressional district could be restored after being lost over 30 years ago.

A five person Montana Redistricting Committee was empanelled to draw the boundaries of the new district in a process that has taken several months. Two are Republicans, two are Democrats and the Commission chair was selected by the Montana Supreme Court.

Dan Stusek is one of the Republican members of the Montana Redistricting Committee and spoke to KGVO News about the process.

Nine maps were drawn and there was a great deal of public comment, however, the chairperson, presiding officer Maylin Smith rejected all nine and added two more, maps 10 and 11.

“Our population grew large enough to regain a second congressional seat,” said Stusek. “Montana had lost its second seat in the 1990 census and we regained it now 30 years later, so it’s pretty exciting. Montana actually went from the least represented state in the US House of Representatives per capita to the most represented state in the US House per capita by virtue of going from one congressional seat to two.”

Stusek said the commission members were all well aware of the political advantages and disadvantages represented in the district maps.

Credit: MyDistricting Montana, Citygate GIS

“The Republican map actually gave the Democrats their coveted town of Bozeman which they have desired throughout this whole process,” he said. “In addition, the Republican proposal gave 87% of the population of Gallatin County including all the I-90 corridor from Three Forks to Manhattan to Belgrade to Bozeman including all the city limits to the Democrats.”

Stusek said Lewis and Clark County, home of the State Capitol of Helena was also strategic in the maps.

Credit: MyDistricting Montana, Citygate GIS

“All of the Republican proposals initially had included Helena in a Western District, thinking that that made more sense because Helena is further west than Bozeman and Gallatin County. However, it was clear that our colleagues wanted Gallatin County and Bozeman in their proposal in the West, and so in order to reach a spirit of compromise we gave them that,  but because we did, then you have to move one significant population center to the East and the most easterly next location was Lewis and Clark County.”

Stusek said every effort will be made to make the new district as neutral as possible, but he did not rule out a possible court case.

“I do know that there has been an increasing trend nationally over the last decade to alter maps that have been proposed that are seen as a little bit too gerrymandered,” he said. “I can't speak for what people may do, but I do believe that our map better meets the legal requirements and expectations, and better meets the eye and smell tests that Montanans expect and would probably hold up better if challenged, then the Democratic proposal.”

There will be a final public meeting in Helena on Saturday, October 30 to offer comments before the decision will be made.

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