Late Census Numbers Change Redistricting Routine In Idaho

Apr 26, 2021

Idaho hasn't yet appointed its state redistricting commission, while Washington's is already up and running.
Credit Courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau

The delay in distributing 2020 census numbers is forcing some states to change the routine of redrawing political boundaries.

The changes seem to be minimal in Washington. The state’s redistricting commission members are appointed and meeting regularly, even though they have no numbers to work with yet.

Idaho is a little behind Washington.

Normally, in years that end in one, Idaho legislators would, by April, have received the Gem State’s census numbers. Not this year, says Elizabeth Bowen, one of the state’s two liaisons to Idaho’s Commission for Reapportionment.

“The Census Bureau has let us know that we will be receiving that data by September 30. It could be sooner than that, but I’m not really expecting it before August, at the earliest," she said.

Normally, with numbers available, the Secretary of State would then start in June to populate the state’s six-member redistricting commission. The House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders each appoint one member and the state parties each appoint one member. Bowen says the state may meet that schedule, even though there would be nothing yet for members to work with.

Once they begin meeting, Bowen says they have 90 days to formulate a redistricting plan. At least four of the six members must approve it. Neither the legislature nor the governor can veto it, but members of the public can challenge it in court.

“Usually there is at least one and probably more court challenges. All of those would have to be taken care of and the plans finalized before we really know what the districts are going to be," she said.

Bowen says those cases are sent right to the state Supreme Court to minimize the delay in implementing a new plan.

One complication with the delay is that Idaho’s filing date for candidates to run in the May 2022 primary is at the end of February.

Let’s say the commission gets the census numbers in September and finishes writing its plan in December. That gives only two months to work through the possible legal challenges.

“There is some concern about shall we change that filing period, possibly even the date of the primary election, just to accommodate what could be happening with redistricting," Bowen said.

Which may be one reason why Idaho legislative leaders on Friday introduced a bill that would allow them to come back to Boise in late summer or September, to consider election-related changes, if needed.