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City of Boise to begin redistricting process for City Council elections

Boise - City Hall - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
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Boise City Hall is located at 150 N. Capitol Blvd. (Otto Kissinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Residents invited to share ideas at public hearing Tuesday evening at City Hall

City of Boise leaders will begin the state-mandated city redistricting process tonight with a public hearing on a draft ordinance to create the Boise Districting Commission.

The process is important because it will shape city council elections — from which candidates get to run for the Boise City Council, to which voters are eligible to vote for them — for the next decade.

In 2020, the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 413 into law, which requires that cities with more than 100,000 residents divide the city into districts that City Council members are elected from. Initially, Boise was the only Idaho city that had the population to require redistricting. However, populations in Meridian and Nampa exceeded 100,000 for the first time during the 2020 census, and those cities will also be required to divide into districts before their next city elections in 2023.

The Boise City Council will consider a draft ordinance creating Boise’s Districting Commission and accept public testimony during its meeting at 6 p.m. today at Boise City Hall, 150 N. Capitol Blvd.

“This commission will set the foundation for our city council elections for years to come, and I’m eager to hear what our residents think about the ordinance,” Mayor Lauren McLean said in a written statement.

The draft ordinance creates the Boise Districting Commission, which will be a five-member panel appointed by McLean and confirmed by the Boise City Council to handle the process of dividing the city into six districts.

The process will be similar to the statewide redistricting process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts in 2021. Like its state counterpart, the Boise Districting Commission will also use 2020 census data to draw new political boundaries.

“What the commission is charged with doing is dividing the city into six districts of as equal numbers as possible,” Hannah Brass Greer, director of strategic operations with the office of the mayor, said in a telephone interview. “Communities of interest will stay together as much as possible, including neighborhood associations, although it may not be possible to keep associations together in every single situation.”

Before the Idaho Legislature changed the law in 2020, City Council elections in Boise were held at-large and all city residents were able to vote in council races. The change to districts requires candidates to be a resident of the geographic district they run in for a city council seat. It also means only residents of that district will be able to vote in that race. In 2021, the city of Boise worked with consultants to quickly divide the city into districts on short notice for last year’s election. Bringing the draft ordinance forward allows the city to begin a more permanent process and involve the public, Brass Greer said.

Boiseans will be able to provide public testimony at tonight’s City Council meeting and again after a draft map is proposed by the Boise Districting Commission. Testimony will be taken again when the commission’s proposal goes before the Boise City Council for final consideration.

“We will have a number of points at which the public can be engaged in the process,” Brass Greer said.

The city’s redistricting plan is not required to be presented to the Boise City Council until 135 days before the November 2023 general election. If the draft ordinance is approved and goes through the process, McLean could then work on the process of making appointments to the commission by early this summer, Brass Greer estimated.