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Idaho redistricting commission re-approves same congressional, legislative maps

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Idaho redistricting commissioners (from center left) Nels Mitchell, Bart Davis and Eric Redman prepare to vote on maps Nov. 10 at the Idaho Statehouse. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Commissioners redid vote due to concerns about potential unintentional open meetings law violation

Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission wrapped up its business on Wednesday at the Idaho State Capital by re-doing votes to approve new legislative and congressional district maps and then approving the state’s final redistricting plan.

Commissioners approved the same maps as they originally did on Friday without making any changes to legislative map L03 or congressional map C03, which are available to view under the “maps” tab on the redistricting commission website.

Wednesday’s votes may represent the final business from the 70-day process of using new census 2020 population data to redraw Idaho’s 35 legislative and two congressional districts. At this point, commissioners and the public will wait to see what, if any, legal challenges are brought against the maps in the form of lawsuits.

“We tried hard to be Idahoans in this process, not Republicans and Democrats,” commission co-chairman Bart Davis said after the vote. “We didn’t always agree with each other, but we were committed to being agreeable in the process and find a way to make it happen.”

Idaho’s redistricting commission comprises six members; three were appointed by Democrats and three were appointed by Republicans.

“I am very proud of our work product and the work that we have accomplished over the last two months,” commissioner Nels Mitchell said at the end of the meeting.

Why did commissioners re-vote on the same maps?

Commissioners re-did the votes after Davis announced commissioners were concerned about a possible violation of the Idaho open meetings law because the agenda from Friday’s meeting — when the first votes on maps occurred — did not specify the Idaho State Capital as the location for the meeting.

If someone successfully challenged the commission under the open meetings law, a court could have potentially invalidated any action from the meeting with the incomplete agenda.

That’s why commissioners posted a new, complete agenda before Wednesday’s meeting and then re-did all of the votes in open session to avoid any uncertainty.

Commissioners and staff have been sensitive to anything that could derail or delay the redistricting process because of the time crunch they have been working under. Idaho received the population data late from the U.S. Census Bureau due to what census officials described as COVID-19-related delays. Commissioners already knew the new maps need to be in place and clear of any challenges by late February 2022 so candidates can officially declare they’re running for public office. Commissioners and staff didn’t want a challenge over the completeness of the agenda to delay or jeopardize the process just as they reached the finish line.

What happens next with the new maps?

Commissioner Eric Redman and the commission’s staff planned to deliver the new maps, the electronic shape files and the final redistricting plan to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, which helps run the state’s elections. The delivery may happen late Wednesday or at some point on Friday because Thursday is Veterans Day, staff said.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office will also review the maps and redistricting plan.

Assuming the maps stand up, they will then be put in place beginning with the 2022 primary elections and remain in place for 10 years. The maps will have far-reaching effects on Idaho elections and politics. The new maps will determine which districts voters and candidates alike live in, and therefore, who will represent Idahoans and their neighbors in the Idaho Legislature and in Congress for the next decade.

Commissioners and staff have been blunt, however, that based on past redistricting processes, they do expect a lawsuit challenging their plan.

Will the maps create many changes?

The maps will create many changes, though many Idahoans will be affected differently depending on where they live. Many Idaho voters will find that they will become a part of a new legislative district in 2022, even though they did not move. The redistricting commission’s staff launched an online tool that allows Idahoans to enter their addresses and find out which legislative district they will be a part of under new map L03.

Many legislators may also find they have been drafted into new legislative districts, even though they didn’t move.

In some cases, allied legislators who previously represented neighboring districts may find they have suddenly been drafted into the same district as each other. In those cases, the legislators may decide to run against each other. In other cases, one legislator may step aside.

Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, raised this concern last week following the first vote on maps.

“The Idaho House Republican Caucus is not entirely thrilled with the new reapportionment of Idaho’s legislative map,” Bedke said in a written statement. “In some cases, highly-qualified and established legislators may be forced to campaign against equally skilled former colleagues. It’s an unfortunate situation and will result in the loss of considerable talent and dedication to service to the people of Idaho but we understand the Commission for Reapportionment was working under a tight window and appreciate their efforts to complete this task in a timely manner.”

The redistricting commission’s staff is working on an official incumbents’ report for legislators that will show which districts incumbents land in based on legislative map L03, but that report may not be finished until next week, staffers said.

Idaho Education News used the commission’s online address lookup tool and publicly available contact information for legislators to take a look at potential legislative showdowns in 10 different legislative districts.

The new maps are also kicking off the next wave of campaign announcements ahead of the 2022 elections.

On Wednesday, former state Rep. Britt Raybould announced she will run for the Idaho House in 2022 in the new District 34, setting up a potential rematch with incumbent Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, who defeated Raybould in 2020.

On Monday, Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, announced that he will run for an open Idaho Senate seat in the new District 12 next year, the Associated Press reported.

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