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Idaho redistricting committee to submit new maps, plan for legislative boundaries

State of Idaho

The bipartisan panel tasked with re-drawing Idaho’s legislative and Congressional district boundaries is expected to submit its final maps and report to the secretary of state’s office Friday. But rather than being the conclusion of the once-a-decade redistricting process, the submission may touch off a new round of haggling over the lines that determine representation in Boise and in Washington, D.C.

Redistricting commissioners signed off on new district maps Wednesday, 90 days after the panel was created. The maps that resulted, called L03 and C03, were designed without much explicit partisanship in mind, commissioners said.

“This was a hard project,” commission co-chair Bart Davis told the Associated Press in late October. “I certainly hope I’ve gained a few friends around the table in this process, because I sure lost a lot in doing it.”

The panel met a deadline to get the maps completed before the Idaho legislature opens a special session November 15. Commissioners faced the twin challenges of a tight deadline caused by late Census data and political headwinds of a polarized electorate.

But there was a third factor: the potential for legal challenges. The last reapportionment plan, approved in 2011, faced two lawsuits and was declared unconstitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court the following year. This year, commissioners wanted to submit their maps and plan in time to resolve complaints well ahead of primary elections scheduled for May 2022.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe opposed the L03 plan because it could dilute the tribe’s representation in Boise. Being lumped in with Shoshone, Clearwater, Benewah and parts of Kootenai counties could result in the tribe being represented by someone unfamiliar with their needs, Legislative Director Tyrel Stevenson told the Coeur d’Alene Press this week.

Rudy Soto, a member of the Shoshone-Bennock Tribes, said the absence of a minority member on the panel led to similar problems in the southeastern part of the state. The Shoshone-Bennock reservation is set to be split among three districts under L03.

“While perhaps not intended, the outcome results in trying to dilute the votes of minorities and low-income citizens,” Soto wrote on Twitter. Speaking on the same topic in a separate tweet, Soto said, “If you’re not [at] the table, you’re on the menu.”

Other complaints may come from lawmakers who will find themselves moved into new districts, or who may face new challengers – including their own colleagues. Several of the re-drawn districts under the L03 plan place sitting lawmakers into the same district.

“The Idaho House Republican Caucus is not entirely thrilled with the new reapportionment of Idaho’s legislative map,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said last week. “In some cases, highly-qualified and established legislators may be forced to campaign against equally skilled former colleagues.”

Idaho Ed News estimated six House races and five Senate races next year could see incumbents running against each other for the newly-defined seats.

Bedke, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and others who took issue with the redistricting commission’s proposals have acknowledged the panel faced very difficult tasks in trying to draw fair boundaries. And even if there are no lawsuits, Idaho’s secretary of state and attorney general will have to approve the redistricting plan before it can be implemented.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.