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Meridian mayor says new redistricting map is an improvement over current boundaries

State Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, speaks to redistricting commissioners Sept. 16, 2021, at Meridian City Hall. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
State Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, speaks to redistricting commissioners Sept. 16, 2021, at Meridian City Hall. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

City won’t add to legal challenges facing the new legislative map

The new legislative districts map that Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission created and approved represents an improvement over how Meridian is currently divided, Mayor Robert Simison said.

In September, before redistricting commissioners approved the new map, Simison told commissioners he believes the city’s population justifies having two legislative districts located centrally to Meridian.

He thinks the new map of legislative boundaries comes pretty close, and Meridian won’t be challenging the redistricting map or joining Ada County’s challenge.

“The map that was approved got us pretty close to that,” Simison said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Was it like the maps we submitted? No. But you’ll never get a perfect map.”

Redistricting takes place every 10 years and is the process of using new U.S. Census Bureau population data to redraw Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and two congressional districts so the population is as equal as possible.

Meridian’s rapid growth illustrates redistricting challenges

Over the past 10 years, Meridian has experienced some of the fastest growth in the country. According to the 2020 census, Meridian was the fourth-fastest growing city in the United States. The city’s population increased by 56.6% over that time, from 75,092 in 2010 to 117,634 in 2020.

Over the past 10 years, four of Idaho’s legislative districts include at least a portion of Meridian. But only one, District 20, is predominantly a Meridian district, Simison said.

One of the challenges with that arrangement is that some of the legislators who represent districts that include a portion of Meridian don’t actually live in Meridian.

“We wanted to make sure we could do what we could to get two districts to allow people who live in Meridian to be in the Legislature to hopefully represent the interests of the city,” Simison said.

“The numbers made it very clear two complete districts could be put in Meridian.”

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, made a similar point at a redistricting hearing at Meridian City Hall in September.

She said Kuna, which is in Ada County, has more in common with Melba, which is in Canyon County than it does with Meridian — even though Kuna and Meridian are in Ada County.

Idaho Supreme Court combines two challenges to redistricting plan 

Earlier this month, Republican superintendent of public instruction candidate Branden Durst and Ada Countyfiled separate challenges against the redistricting commission’s new legislative map with the Idaho Supreme Court.

Both challenges ask the Idaho Supreme Court to throw out the legislative map,which is named LO3, because they allege the maps divide more counties than necessary. Both challenges cite maps drawn and submitted by the public that split fewer counties than the map redistricting commissioners approved.

On Nov. 10, the bipartisan redistricting commissioner voted unanimously to approve the legislative map, saying the map was well balanced and they were able to minimize differences in population between the different districts.

On Nov. 23, the Idaho Supreme Court combined the two cases and indicated oral arguments would be heard in January. Ada County officials and Durst have until Dec. 2 to file their opening briefs, and the redistricting commission and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who is also named in the challenge, have until Dec. 16 to file their briefs.

One of the biggest challenges redistricting commissioners faced was balancing the rules, law and court mandates that the redistricting process is bound by. For example, commissioners were told to create 35 legislative districts with as close to the same population as possible while splitting up as few counties as possible.

Idaho’s rapid growth compounded the difficulties redistricting commissioners faced. While Meridian, western Ada County and much of the Treasure Valley grew rapidly, many other areas of the state experienced modest or slow growth or even population declines.

Simison said Meridian won’t join Ada County’s challenge or file a separate challenge. But if the court throws out the redistricting map and puts the redistricting commission back to work, Simison said city officials would review any new criteria from the courts and re-engage with comments or feedback for the commissioners.

If commissioners are ordered to change or redraw the map, Simison said it’s important for commissioners to draw the lines based on the 2020 census population, instead of drawing the lines anticipating future growth.

Officials from the city of Boise declined to be interviewed for this article after the Idaho Capital Sun requested an interview through the city’s communications director.

If the redistricting commission’s map survives the legal challenges, it will be put in place starting with the May 2022 primary elections and remain in place for 10 years.

The next census is scheduled for 2030, and Idaho’s next redistricting commission would be put to work in 2031. If Idaho continues to grow, the state’s population could justify adding a third congressional district after the 2030 census, redistricting commission co-chairman Bart Davis said this fall.

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