Idaho’s redistricting commission to vote on maps Friday
One commissioner tests positive for COVID-19, another had close contact
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.)
(UPDATED Nov. 5, to clarify commissioner Bart Davis’ comments the congressional map)
Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission is accelerating its timeline to vote on a congressional and legislative map Friday, even as opposition to last week’s new legislative map mounts.
Meanwhile, commissioner Tom Dayley tested positive for COVID-19 and another commissioner and several commission staffers had close contact with Dayley in recent days before he became symptomatic, commission co-chairman Bart Davis said Thursday afternoon.
Dayley attended Wednesday’s and Thursday’s meetings remotely.
“He’s not feeling well, but he says he’s feeling better than probably a lot of others who have gone through this,” Davis said. “He’s in mostly good spirits. He’s participating via electronic means with us today, and we hope that he will be able to participate with us in our meeting tomorrow.”
Davis said he hoped other commissioners and staff would be able to avoid contracting the virus.
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“We’ve all had our shots, some of us have had our booster shots,” Davis said during the meeting. “We’re being more aggressive in wearing our masks.”
Thursday’s news represents significant developments for the redistricting commission, which has been working to beat a Nov. 30 deadline to redraw Idaho’s 35 legislative district boundaries and two congressional boundaries.
“We’re trying to follow CDC guidelines, but we also acknowledge that we are under a clock,” Davis said during the meeting “We can’t just put a bookmark in this and say, ‘We’ll see you in mid December.’ So we have to move as reasonably quick as we can.”
Commissioners originally planned to vote on the maps Nov. 10. That’s been sped up to Friday, with commissioners set to unveil new maps on their website at some point Thursday.
The new legislative map, which will be titled L03, and the new congressional map C03, are the maps expected to be voted on Friday, Davis said.
Map L03 makes some changes and improvements to the previous version, L02, Davis said.
The new congressional map, C03, would split Ada County between the state’s two congressional districts. Under that map, both congressional districts would have the exact same population from the 2020 census, Davis said, meaning there is a population deviation of zero between the size of the districts.
For the past 50 years, since 1971, Ada County has been split between the two congressional districts, Davis said Wednesday.
Since Tuesday, Ada County commissioners, Canyon County commissioners and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes have sent the redistricting commission letters in opposition to the latest proposed legislative map, L02.
Ada and Canyon county commissioners had submitted their own proposed map, L72, and expressed disappointment the redistricting commission didn’t incorporate those recommendations.
“Ada County believes that the proposed plan is constitutionally and statutorily flawed and urges the reapportionment commission to adopt the county’s proposed L72,” the letter signed by Ada County Commissioners Ryan Davidson, Rod Beck and Kendra Kenyon states.
Ada and Canyon county commissioners oppose the way the two counties are divided up to create legislative districts.
“Ada and Canyon counties are the two fastest growing counties in Idaho, yet L02 proposes to divide these urban, growing communities of interest with rural, sparsely populated neighboring counties,” Ada County commissioners wrote.
Commissioners don’t like the idea of mixing Eagle in Ada County with Emmett in Gem County. They also don’t like mixing Meridian (the fourth fastest growing city in the country, according to the 2020 census) in Ada County with a slice of Canyon County.
Canyon County’s letter expressed similar concerns and also favored L72.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Fort Hall Business Council sent redistricting commissioners a letter expressing “great disappointment” in proposed legislative map L02.
“We object to the boundary drawn between proposed Districts 28 and 30 because it intentionally divides the two largest population clusters on our Reservation also known as the Fort Hall Indian Reservation,” the letter signed by chairman Devon Boyer, vice chairwoman Marlene Skunkcap, secretary Ladd Edmo, treasurer Elma Thompson, sergeant-at-arms Roland Marshall and councilmen Nathan Small and Lee Juan states.
Commission co-chairman Dan Schmidt said in an interview that there are two difficult jobs commissioners must balance: making district populations as equal as possible while avoiding splitting counties.
“We’ve made a lot of people very unhappy, but I believe we did a very good job balancing those two masters — appropriate representation and minimizing county splits,” Schmidt said.
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What does it take for the redistricting commission to approve a map?
When commissioners do vote, it will take a minimum of four votes from the six-member commissioner to approve a map. Three of the commissioners were appointed by Democrats and three were appointed by Republicans.
It’s not clear how the vote will shake out, particularly with the congressional map. On Wednesday, Schmidt pushed for a congressional map that didn’t split any Idaho counties, such as map C36 submitted by Republican superintendent of public instruction candidate Branden Durst. That map had a population difference of 102 people between the districts.
But Davis said congressional maps have split Ada County for 50 years. He advocated for, and then drew much of, a proposed map that splits Ada County and produced the exact same population for the two districts. Davis added that he had heard public testimony saying that splitting Ada County gave each district some claim to the Idaho State Capitol and the capital city of Boise.
Splitting Ada County also allowed Davis and the commission to create two districts with the exact same population, which he said was an important step in satisfying the principles of equal representation and “one person, one vote.”
After Thursday’s meeting, Schmidt told reporters he hasn’t concluded Wednesday’s discussions with Davis yet. Schimidt said he would talk with Davis personally rather than speak to reporters about his decision.
When the Idaho Capital Sun asked Schmidt if he was prepared to vote Friday, he didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, actually I pushed to vote today,” Schmidt said.
How does redistricting shape Idaho?
The maps and redistricting plan will be important because they will help shape Idaho elections, politics and government for the next 10 years. The maps will determine which districts Idahoans live in and, therefore, which candidates they may vote for and who will represent them and their neighbors in Congress and in the Idaho Legislature for the next 10 years.
Because the old maps are being thrown out, many Idahoans may find themselves in a new district beginning with the May 2022 primary elections. Legislators may also find that they have been drafted into a new legislative district alongside another legislator who used to represent a neighboring district. In those cases, legislators would have to decide on short notice whether to run against each other or have one step aside or retire.
Even if commissioners approve both maps Friday, they may meet again Nov. 10 to vote on a redistricting plan and wrap up their business.
Friday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. in Room WW17 on the lowest level of the Idaho Statehouse. The meeting will be streamed live online, for free, using Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service.
Each of the proposed maps, including new maps L03 and C03, will be available under the “maps” tab on the redistricting commission’s website.
Redistricting commission staffers and commissioners have said for months that the maps and plan could ultimately be challenged in court via a lawsuit.
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