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Politics & Government

Idaho Lawmakers Want New District Maps Drawn ASAP

Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder stands in front of a microphone with a red velvet curtain behind him.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder, seen in this file photo, pushed back against a proposed redistricting timeline presented to a group of legislative leaders Tuesday.

A proposed timeline for the state’s legislative and congressional redistricting process met with some resistance Tuesday among top state lawmakers.

The Legislative Services Office, staffed by non-partisan workers, suggested convening Idaho’s independent, bipartisan redistricting commission Sept. 13.

That would come nearly a month after the U.S. Census Bureau is expected to send population data to states in mid-August.

“I just think that’s way too much time,” said Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise).

Keith Bybee, the deputy LSO director overseeing policy and budgets, said that would give his team time to put together a proposed map for the commission that would involve splitting the fewest counties possible.

“If you’re just going to hand a map to the commission and say, ‘This is the map,’ and I’ve had some people do that already…then you don’t need a commission,” Winder said.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of census data by months. Work on redrawing Idaho’s electoral maps was already underway by now in years past.

Winder told Bybee it’s understandable if LSO needed some time to verify the data.

“If you took two weeks’ time to do that and then started your orientation, you’d save some time and it’s going to become very critical.”

Bybee said the timeline could be condensed.

“If I feel like we can push on that balloon hard and make sure all of the commissioners are in place to take that up before Labor Day, then I think that’s acceptable."

Under the proposed timeline, the commission would hold meetings across Idaho from September to mid-October with a goal of finalizing maps by Nov. 24. The commission has 90 days from its creation to submit plans to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.

Any delay could jeopardize Idaho’s typical election cycle.

Candidates have to file paperwork to make their campaigns official – typically in March of an election year. But lawsuits and deadlocked redistricting commissions in the past have left official boundaries in limbo until just shortly before that deadline.

It also could complicate whether an incumbent lawmaker wanted to – or even would be eligible – to run for reelection. The Idaho Constitution requires a state legislator to live in a district for a year before they could run for office, even if it’s a newly drawn one.

“If [these maps don’t] come out until Thanksgiving, we have missed the year deadline,” said Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls).

The commission undertakes reapportionment every 10 years to ensure each legislative district represents roughly the same amount of people.

Counties should remain whole whenever possible, according to state law, though they can be split if no other option is available. Redistricting should also keep intact neighborhoods, local communities and precinct boundaries.

Idahoans can also draw their own legislative district maps and submit them to the commission once it’s up and running.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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