Idaho’s redistricting commission approved new legislative and congressional boundaries in 2021. This section of the legislative map shows much of the Treasure Valley. (Courtesy of Idaho Commission For Reapportionment)
Ada County is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to toss out Idaho’s new legislative redistricting map and put redistricting commissioners back to work creating new political boundaries.
The challenge was signed by all three Ada County commissioners — Rod Beck, Ryan Davidson and Kendra Kenyon — and Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Lorna K. Jorgensen. The challenge names Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney as respondents.
Redistricting happens every 10 years, and similar processes are playing out across the country. Redistricting is the process of using new U.S. Census Bureau data to redraw Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and two congressional districts. The process is required under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution to ensure that political representation is as equal as possible to protect the principle of ‘one person, one vote.’
Ada County’s challenge argues the map should be tossed out because it divides eight of Idaho’s 44 counties, whereas maps submitted by the public only divide seven counties.
Ada County officials also challenged the specific ways their county was divided up on the new legislative redistricting map.
“… It takes a portion of northern Ada County and joins it with Gem County for a district anyway,” the challenge states. “The Commission then takes a slice of Ada County to the west and joins it with Canyon County for another district. Finally, it takes southern Ada County and joins it with Owyhee County and Canyon County for another district.”
From the outset of the redistricting process, staff and state officials told commissioners the Idaho Constitution and state law require them create districts of as close to the same population size as possible and to split as few counties as possible.
Those were two of the factors commissioners wrestled with throughout the 70-day redistricting process.
Commissioners (three appointed by Democrats and three appointed by Republicans) approved the legislative map unanimously and said they were proud of the balance it struck.
“The final version strikes the right balance,” redistricting commissioner Nels Mitchell said in a Nov. 5 interview. “All of the districts are pretty close to parity in terms of population. In addition, we tried to minimize moving districts entirely.”
Ada County’s challenge does include a couple of errors or misleading sections.
Denney’s name is misspelled under the “parties” section of the challenge.
The challenge inaccurately states “the Commission finished its business on November 10, 2021 when it submitted its Final Report to the Idaho Secretary of State.” The commission’s staff didn’t submit the final report to the secretary of state’s office until Nov. 12, the Idaho Capital Sun has previously reported. The commission did vote to approve the maps Nov. 10, but the report was not delivered until Nov. 12.
The challenge also states “thirty-five (35) legislative districts are the maximum districts allowed,” when in fact, in November 2020, 68% of Idaho voters voted to approve HJR 4, which amended the Idaho Constitution to require exactly 35 districts, not a maximum of 35 districts.
All throughout the process, redistricting commissioners and staff were blunt that they expected legal challenges based on previous redistricting processes.
If the new map survives challenges it faces, it will be put in place beginning with the May 2022 primary elections and stay in effect for 10 years, until the next redistricting process.
Ada County commissioners previously expressed redistricting concerns
On Nov. 2, all three Ada County commissioners sent a letter to the redistricting commission arguing they believed a previous version of the legislative map, called L02, was “unconstitutional and statutorily flawed.” That map was similar to the final map, L03, that redistricting commissioners approved.
In their letter, Ada County commissioners first raised their concerns about how the Treasure Valley was divided.
“Ada and Canyon counties are two of the 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 in the Nov. 2 letter.
Before the redistricting commission voted on final maps, Ada County officials used a free version of the Maptitute software redistricting commissioners used to draw and submit their own proposed map, called L072. They had hoped redistricting commissioners would use that map as the basis for a new legislative map.
Idaho’s redistricting plan now faces two legal challenges
Ada County’s was the second legal challenge launched over the redistricting plan this month.
On Nov. 10, Republican superintendent of public instruction candidate Branden Durst filed the first legal challenge. Durst, a former Democratic state senator, asked the Idaho Supreme Court to toss out legislative map L03 and rule it is unconstitutional because the map divides more of Idaho’s counties than Durst thinks it should.
This fall, Durst also used a free version of the mapping software redistricting commissioners used to draw and submit several of his own maps. Durst cited one of his own maps in his legal challenge.
On Monday, the Idaho Supreme Court gave the redistricting commission and Denney 14 days to file a respondent’s brief to Durst’s challenge. The court also ordered the state to turn over records of the redistricting proceedings and the final report, which the state did on Wednesday.
Oral arguments had yet to be scheduled for Durst’s challenge or for Ada County’s challenge as of this article’s publication.
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