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Idaho redistricting commission hopes to unveil new political maps this week

Redistricting commission co-chairman Bart Davis asks a question while training with Maptitude software Sept. 2. (Photo by Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun.)
James Max
Redistricting commission co-chairman Bart Davis asks a question while training with Maptitude software Sept. 2. (Photo by Jim Max/For the Idaho Capital Sun.)

Commissioners have until Nov. 30 to approve legislative, congressional maps

Following a nearly two-week planned break, Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission returns to the Statehouse in Boise this week to get back to work on redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

The six commissioners meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday and have meetings planned for Thursday and Friday as well.

Commissioners proposed rough drafts of working maps in September before embarking on a tour of public hearings across the state.

Commissions haven’t proposed any new maps sincethe three originals came out Sept. 10, but they hope to have a productive week and release news maps this week.

“Now the commission has really reached a critical stage, and it’s time to reconvene and continue with our thoughtful conversations and produce two maps, legislative and congressional, (this) week,” commissioner Amber Pence said in a telephone interview.

“The commission did a great job of traveling the state and hearing informative feedback from Idahoans,” Pence added. “As we traveled, and throughout this break, we’ve really had time to reflect back on that feedback.”

Commissioner Nels Mitchell agreed. He said the purpose of the original maps was to give Idahoans something initially to focus on and provide feedback on during the public hearings.

Now, it’s time to work on a more serious proposal.

“What we’re hoping to do is put out a revised version of the legislative map L01 with revisions and the same thing with the congressional map, so people will have another opportunity to look at what we’re doing before we finalize our decision,” Mitchell said in a telephone interview. “But the window is closing on our time, and we have less than six weeks to get our work done.”

Redistricting takes place every 10 years and is the process of using new census data to redraw Idaho’s two congressional districts and 35 legislative districts. The process is required under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution to assure political representation is as equal as possible.

Idaho was the second-fastest growing state in the country over the past decade, according to the 2020 census. However, the growth was divided and uneven, which is why the state’s political boundaries are being tossed out and redrawn.

At this point, commissioners are nearly two-thirds of the way into the process. They convened Sept. 1 and have 90 days — until Nov. 30 — to approve their two maps and submit the redistricting process to the state.

It takes at least four out of six commissioners to approve a map.

Redistrictingis a complicated process because of the law and court rulings that guide the process. For instance, commissioners know they must split the state’s 44 counties into 35 legislative districts. But they have to do that by splitting as few counties as possible and still keeping the population of districts nearly equal.

The commission’s first legislative map splits eight counties. But members of the public have submitted maps splitting just seven counties, so commissioners may need to produce a more finely tuned map.

“Idaho is fortunate we have a good statute and what the statute does is it sets up the criteria we are supposed to consider and focus on but it also tells us some things we are not supposed to focus on,” Mitchell said. “One thing we are not supposed to focus on is where incumbents might live and we’re also not supposed to divide counties to protect political parties.”

Commission co-chairman Bart Davis has also stressed the importance of pushing politics aside.

“Let’s not let external political pressure become a wedge in the relationship we are trying to maintain in finding this statewide solution,” Davis told the other commissioners earlier this month.

So far Pence said she’s been impressed by the commission’s ability to keep things from getting too political.

“I thought it would be more political but it’s not, it’s really based on numbers and math and trying to make it work,” Pence said. “I really went into thinking the feedback we got might be more political, but it really wasn’t. It’s more about the geography of Idaho and the lay of land or communities of interest.”

Each of the commission’s meetings is streamed live online for free using Idaho Public Telveision’sIdaho in Session service. The commission’s proposed maps, as well as more than 50 maps submitted by the public, are available to view under the “maps” tab on the commission’s website.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.