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How does redistricting affect where I can vote and who I can vote for?

A view of downtown Boise taken from the depot – buildings like the capitol, U.S. Bank and Grove hotel can be seen with foothills sprawling in the background.
Kelsey Thomson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho Matters is answering your questions about voting in the 2022 midterm elections.

This week a listener asked us about redistricting:

To help us answer this question, we invited Boise State Public Radio reporter James Dawson to talk a little bit about state and city redistricting, and why that may affect where you vote and who you can vote for.

Here is Gemma's interview during Idaho Matters:

Gemma Gaudette: So, Jimmy, let's start with Sue's legislative district. Why did her district change?

James Dawson: Yeah, and this is something a lot of people probably noticed. So every ten years with the new census, every single state in the country goes through what's called redistricting at not only the state legislative level, but the congressional level. And the idea is to make representation as even as possible to account for places that either grew or maybe shrunk. So you have to create these districts with as even of a population as you can within a certain margin, while also making sure that it makes sense geographically. So you're not going to group up, let's say, the Boise's north end with Idaho City, right. Because there are two very different places with different needs and they might not necessarily feel like they would be represented well by the same person. And so that's kind of a very, very basic understanding of what's going on here.

Gemma Gaudette: And Jimmy, to be clear, this happens every ten years because it's based on the census, because that's when we take the population around the United States every ten years. So it has to align with the population, whether there's been a growth or a deficit.

James Dawson: Exactly. Yeah. And you want to have as even of a population in these districts, at least to start out the decade as you can. Obviously, we saw, you know, a very uneven growth here in Idaho over the past several years where the largest district out kind of like in eagle/Meridian had tens of thousands of people, more than the smallest district, for example.

Gemma Gaudette: So Sue says that she can't vote for the same lawmaker anymore. Is that a normal part of redistricting, Jimmy?

James Dawson: Yeah, it can be. So a lot of these boundaries got tweaked in Boise as Sue noticed, greater Ada County, not to mention Canyon county because of that explosive population growth. And for some people, the line between districts maybe just shifted a couple streets over. And if you think about it from the lawmakers perspective, too, sometimes they're put into these entirely new districts with a whole lot of people they've never represented before. They could face another one of their fellow lawmakers at the state house in a primary if their boundaries shifted. So it's, you know,

You've got to be a little, I guess, flexible with the adjustments that come every ten years.
James Dawson

Gemma Gaudette: Okay, So then congressional districts, those can change as well, Correct? So folks like Sue may find themselves even voting for a different U.S. representative.

James Dawson: Yeah. And the big shift would be kind of in the west, Boise, Southeast Boise or Southwest Boise area, rather. It's not as complicated for now because Idaho, we only have these two US House members, right? And so they basically just draw a line in the Treasure Valley and call it a day. So for the next ten years, that dividing line is Eagle Road, where it used to actually, like I said, be within the city of Boise and Idaho, barely missed out on getting a new congressional district this year. So come 2031, if we keep growing like this, they're going to have to make those harder choices and maybe even make parts of the Treasure Valley, their own congressional district.

Gemma Gaudette: Which would then give us three representatives on Capitol Hill?

James Dawson: Exactly. Yes.

Gemma Gaudette: Right. And that has been something we've been looking at with growth. Okay. So Sue talked about where she votes, Jimmy, that changed, too. We know that's part of redistricting. So my question then is this, What happens if your voting places change? You don't know it. You show up to the old spot on Election Day. Can you vote there or do you have to go to the new place now?

James Dawson: You're going to have to go to the new place. Thankfully, the very helpful folks who are at these precincts will be able to tell you where that is. So like Sue said, she got the postcard with where she's supposed to vote, her new districts and all of that. If for whatever reason you didn't get a postcard, maybe you just recently moved or for whatever reason got lost in the mail, you can go online to voteidaho.gov. You enter in some information. If you have a state ID for example, it should point you in the right direction. Or you could also call or visit your local county elections office and they can help you out to.

Gemma Gaudette: Okay, Let's switch to the other half of Sue's question. And this is in regards to the city of Boise and then the district's four city council members. This is something that is brand new. And can you kind of compare this, I guess, Jimmy, right, to state redistricting. Why is the city of Boise now using districts for its council candidates? Because in the past, if you lived in Boise, you could vote for every candidate.

James Dawson: Exactly. Yeah. And so this was a law passed by the state legislature in 2020. It requires Idaho's biggest cities like Boise to move to a district system. It's a fairly common system, even in some smaller towns and cities across the country. It Just hadn't been adopted here for whatever reason that might be. You know, the legislators at the time, which we should say were mostly, if not all Republicans, basically saying that they were tired of seeing all of the Boise City Council members be from a very select, very wealthy group of neighborhoods, namely the North end and East end. And so now theoretically, you're going to have more representation from folks who might live on the bench or West Boise or Southwest Boise, just to name a few neighborhoods. And theoretically, that would increase representation for people who live in those areas. And it's not just for Boise.

So any city with more than 100,000 residents based on the most recent census will have to create districts. And right now that includes Meridian and Nampa.
James Dawson

Gemma Gaudette: So the next time they have a council seats up, Jimmy, they will have to do this as well in those two cities.

James Dawson: Yes. And Meridian already adopted their redistricting map in June. That process in Nampa and Boise is still ongoing and you can still, if you live in these areas, you can still submit your comments and talk about what you like or dislike about the proposed maps. But both of them hope to get that done by the end of the year.

Gemma Gaudette: Mm hmm. So, Jimmy, we know that redistricting across the country, right? Whether it's at a state level or a local level, can be really contentious. So how does Idaho do this? Because a lot of times when we talk about redistricting, we hear about gerrymandering, you know, all of these things that negatively impact voters. But we have a fairly decent system in place in Idaho.

James Dawson: Yeah, Idaho, since like a lot of Western states actually does an independent redistricting system, whereas, you know, other states in the in the Midwest or out East or in the South might just leave it up to the state legislature to vote through these plans. Now, that's not to say that our system is nonpartisan. Some other states have that, but ours is a six member council appointed, three members by Republicans, three members by Democrats. And they can't, for example, have been former lawmakers within a certain period of time. And they can't run for election in these districts for, I think, five years, several years. And so that is a way to try to ensure that politics won't creep in as much. Of course, there's always going to be, you know, politics getting in there. But that's kind of the scene that we have here in Idaho.

Gemma Gaudette: So before I let you go, Jimmy, I mean, bottom line for folks like Sue is that, you know, this year you might just have to do a little bit more digging just to find out maybe who you can vote for if you're in a new district, you know, things like that, because it might be a little confusing on Election Day.

James Dawson: Absolutely. And if you, for whatever reason, want to avoid all of that, don't forget, you can still request an absentee ballot up to, I believe, October 28th. You still have some time to do that. If you just want to skip the line, don't worry about going in person. You could go vote at one of the early voting locations. You know, Ada County has several Canyon County, I believe, has that. Lots of counties do. So there are other options if you just want to avoid that hassle.

Do a little bit of homework beforehand. Call your county elections office, go online and definitely write that down.
James Dawson

Gemma Gaudette: Well, as always, Jimmy, we appreciate you.

James Dawson: Thank you.

This project is part of the work of America Amplified, an initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to support community engagement journalism in public media.

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As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.

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