BOISE — After 18 public hearings all around the state, hours of testimony, and painstaking work on possible new legislative and congressional district lines, Idaho’s citizen redistricting commission now plans to return in two weeks to continue its task.
“This is harder than I ever thought,” said former state Sen. Bart Davis, co-chair of the commission. “I honestly had no idea how complex this math problem is.”
The six-member bipartisan panel had hoped to agree on new draft legislative and congressional districts for Idaho on Wednesday, but members said they weren’t there yet.
“I think we’ve still got some work ahead of us,” said Commissioner Eric Redman, a former state representative from North Idaho.
“Last night, some other things were thrown in the mix that we didn’t realize,” said Commissioner Tom Dayley, a former state representative from Boise, including a new proposed district plan submitted by Ada County commissioners. “I think it behooves us … to take more time and reflect on all that we’ve heard.”
Fourteen people testified at the 18th public hearing in the process on Tuesday night, which was held in Boise but took remote testimony from anywhere in the state. Previous in-person hearings have been held in multiple locations in eastern Idaho, northern Idaho, the Magic Valley and the Treasure Valley.
Throughout the process, the public has been invited to submit its own proposed maps, and many have done so. Thus far, the commission has received more than 30 proposed maps to divide Idaho into its two congressional districts, and more than 60 proposals to carve up the state into 35 new legislative districts.
“People can still weigh in,” said former state Sen. Dan Schmidt, co-chairman of the commission. There’s more information online at redistricting.idaho.gov.
The district lines must change each decade to match population changes reflected in the new U.S. Census, in order to preserve the one-person, one-vote principle.
The results can have big political consequences, including when sitting lawmakers find population changes have pushed them into the same district as other sitting lawmakers, forcing a choice. Redistricting commissioners are forbidden by law from taking into account any partisan political considerations – including the fate of incumbent legislators or congressmen – when they draw new legislative and congressional district maps.
Idaho lawmakers used to draw the new lines themselves every 10 years, but a constitutional amendment approved by Idaho voters in 1994 gave the task instead to an evenly split bipartisan commission.
Throughout the process this fall, Schmidt said, commissioners have been listening to local concerns about representation and communities of interest.
“There were lots of little areas and details where people felt strongly, and we can make those accommodations without great disruption to the overall solution,” Schmidt said. “There are some that we can’t, without just blowing the whole thing up.”
Among the many factors the commissioners must balance are populations numbers, county lines, shared interests within communities, keeping districts contiguous, and more.
The commissioners on Wednesday also agreed to draft a letter to the Legislature noting ideas that have been brought forward in testimony for possible changes in the process. Among them: Boise State University Professor Emeritus Gary Moncrief’s suggestion that rather than have two representatives and one senator all represent the same district, that each Senate district be divided into two House districts to allow more localized representation within them. That likely would require a constitutional change, however, as would various other suggestions brought to the commission, including more ways to recognize communities of interest when they cross county lines.
“We’re not the policy setters,” Davis said. “But we can highlight things.”
The commission is set to reconvene at the state Capitol on Oct. 27 at 10 a.m.