Idaho’s redistricting commission has agreed on a map for the new districts. This comes after the previous commission failed to reach a compromise. Part of the problem, perhaps, was that there are an even number of people on the commission: three Democrats and three Republicans. The Democrats went so far as to accuse the Republicans of designing this commission to fail. While evidence for that particular bit of speculation seems to be lacking, Article I Section (E)(6) of the Idaho Republican platform lists as one of its objectives, moving the redistricting responsibility back to the Idaho legislature.
Idaho is one of nine states with redistricting commissions and is the smallest even-numbered redistricting commission of any of the states. Two other states have even numbers. California’s commission includes five Democrats, five Republicans and four Independents. New Jersey’s redistricting commission has five Democrats and five Republicans. However, in New Jersey, if the commission deadlocks, the state supreme court will appoint a tiebreaking person to the commission.
So aside from being equally composed of diametrically opposed halves, why did Idaho’s commission deadlock?
Idaho has, pursuant to its authority granted in article three section five of the state constitution, passed a statute that usually requires there to be a state highway connecting adjacent multi-county voting districts. I say “usually” because, as the statute states, “When the commission determines… that it cannot complete its duties for a legislative district by fully complying with the provisions of this subsection, this subsection shall not apply to the… redistricting plan…” Another part of the same statute states, “To the maximum extent possible, districts shall preserve traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest.”
This raises the somewhat obvious question: When the committee can fulfill one, but not both of these optional requirements, which one should they fulfill?
The answer, of course, depends on your party affiliation. Democrats – seeing an electoral advantage from drawing circles around cities, thinks it is more important to, as they spin it, keep communities together. Republicans – seeing an electoral advantage from mixing rural with urban, seem to take the position that roads are good indicators of community connectivity, and that therefore, the road rule should be satisfied first.
This partisan gamesmanship, combined with Idaho’s beautiful and rugged terrain has created a problem for the previous commission that tried, and recently failed, to redistrict the Gem state. One of many the reasons for that failure appears to surround the town of Twin Falls. The only road that meets the statutory requirement connects the city with the two counties that surround it. The Republican plan splits the city into two, thereby, according to the Democrats, violating the duty to preserve the local communities of interest. The Democratic plan draws a circle around the city, which means that the district to the north of Twin Falls is contiguous with the district south of Twin Falls, but is not connected by a road. This, according to the Republicans, violates the road rule. How the commission compromised in this area will be revealed along with the redistricting map on Monday.
When the commission failed to produce a plan by its deadline and dissolved, two lawsuits were filed. The secretary of state filed one which asked the court to declare the old redistricting plan unconstitutional and to order the redistricting committee to reconvene. The three Republicans on the commission filed another.
The Idaho Supreme Court did not order the redistricting committee to reconvene, claiming they did not have the authority to do so. It did, however, agree to hear challenges to the 2002 maps, scheduling oral arguments for October 12.
The secretary of state then ordered the commission to reconvene. No members of the old commission will be on the new commission, pursuant to an Idaho statute. While the secretary of state appears to have scheduled the commission’s first meeting September 28th, the Republican commissioners issued an editorial stating the commission will not reconvene until September 30th. Now that the commissioners have decided on a map, it is unclear how much, if any, work the commission has left to do.
Daniel Page is a third-year student at William & Mary Law School.