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‘A tough nut to crack:’ Redistricting commissioners say redrawing boundaries won’t be easy

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Members of Idaho’s redistricting commission receive training Sept. 2 at the Statehouse. (Photo by Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun.)

Idaho commission must draw 35 legislative, 2 congressional districts by Nov. 30

The difficulty of the assignment is starting to sink in for members of Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission.

During Thursday’s meeting at the Statehouse, commission co-chairman Bart Davis said diving into drawing new maps of legislative boundaries brought home “the realization that this is going to be as hard as people told us it was going to be.”

The six commissioners — three appointed by Democrats, three appointed by Republicans — have until Nov. 30 to redraw Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and two congressional districts. The redistricting process is based on new U.S. Census Bureau data and is required by the U.S. Constitution and Idaho Constitution to ensure political representation is equal. The ideal legislative district, using 2020 census data to divide Idaho’s population into 35 equal parts, is 52,546 people.

Redistricting commissioners must draw those 35 district boundaries while splitting as few of Idaho’s 44 counties as possible and attempting to keep cities and communities of interest together while avoiding odd-shaped districts.

The process is fraught with political pressure, the census data was delivered months later than expected due to delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the threat of lawsuit or challenge looms over the entire process.

“We have had several areas of large (population) growth, and it is impacting the shape of those districts,” Davis said during Thursday’s meeting to explain why existing legislative districts won’t work.

“It’s just a hard nut to crack,” Davis added, reflecting on the difficulty of splitting as few counties as possible.

Focusing on regional corners of the state, the six commissioners broke into pairs Wednesday and Thursday to begin piecing together their first proposed maps of new legislative boundaries.

One of the commission’s major goals this week is to complete an initial, rough proposed map to display during a five-week public hearing tour that kicks off next week.

Commission co-chairman Dan Schmidt has stressed the first proposed map will be an initial rough effort that is intended to generate some conversations during public hearings across the state. Commissioners will use the feedback they hear from the public to develop more fine-tuned maps as the process goes along.

Davis said he hopes to have the first of two maps finalized — if not voted on — by Oct. 13.

“I appreciate all the work,” Schmidt told commissioners Thursday. “It’s a slog, but something we need to do.”

Commissioners reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday in Room WW17 io the lowest floor at the Idaho Statehouse. The goal will be to stitch together a proposed statewide map of new legislative districts. If there is time remaining, commissioners signaled they may attempt to divide the state in two to create a proposed congressional boundary map to generate conversation during upcoming public hearings.

Friday’s meeting and all of the redistricting commission’s business meetings at the Statehouse are streamed live, for free, via Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service.

Commissioners first met on Sept. 1, and are meeting three times a week at this point — on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They have not taken any votes or accepted any public testimony yet, but the first public hearings were finalized Thursday afternoon.

Next week’s redistricting commission public hearings schedule:

Sept. 15:

Caldwell, 1 p.m., Caldwell Public Library, 1010 Dearborn St., Dean E. Miller Community Room.

Nampa, 7 p.m., Nampa City Hall, 411 Third St. South, City Council Chambers.

Sept. 16: 

Meridian, 1 p.m., Meridian City Hall, 33 E. Broadway Ave., City Council Chambers.

Boise, 7 p.m. – Idaho State Capitol, 700 W. Jefferson St., Lincoln Auditorium.

Sept. 17: 

Eagle, 1 p.m., Eagle City Hall, 660 E. Civic Lane, City Council Chambers.