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Idaho Supreme Court upholds new congressional redistricting plan

by CLARK CORBIN Idaho Capital Sun
| February 17, 2022 1:00 AM

The Idaho Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Friday upholding the state’s new congressional redistricting plan and political boundaries, thereby resolving the final legal challenge over the redistricting process.

The ruling clears up big unanswered questions heading into this year’s elections. It means the new congressional boundaries will be in place without delaying the May 17 primary elections. The Idaho Supreme Court also issued a different ruling Jan. 27 upholding the legislative redistricting plan, which was the subject of four challenges.

The challenges and rulings are all related to the redistricting process, which involves using updated census population data to redraw the state’s two congressional and 35 legislative districts.

In December, an Elmore County voter named Christopher Pentico filed a challenge against the congressional redistricting plan, alleging that Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission turned the plan into the state late and improperly split precincts in Ada County.

In Friday’s opinion, Justice John R. Stegner wrote that the redistricting plan was not late and did not violate state law by splitting precincts.

“We hold that the Commission was organized on September 1, 2021, when the Commission elected two commissioners as co-chairs, pursuant to Idaho Code section 72-1505,” Stegner wrote. “Because the Commission was organized on September 1, 2021, the ninety-day deadline had not expired by the time the Final Report was filed on November 12, 2021.”

Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan and Justices Robyn M. Brody, Gregory W. Moeller and Colleen D. Zahn all concurred with Stegner.

Stegner also addressed the issue of splitting precincts.

“The only reasonable interpretation of the statute is that it gives the commission the authority to split voting precincts in both its congressional and legislative plans,” Stegner wrote. “Pentico argues that the statute does not give the commission the ability to split precincts in its congressional plan, while conceding it gives the commission the ability to do so in its legislative plan. Why would the legislature give the commission the ability to split precincts for one plan, but not the other? The simple answer is it would not make sense to do so.”

What is redistricting, and how does it affect me?

Redistricting occurs in states every 10 years. It is the process of using new U.S. Census Bureau data to redraw political boundaries to ensure political representation is as close to equal as possible. The process is required by the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution to satisfy the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Idaho was the second-fastest growing state in the country over the previous decade, according to the 2020 census. But growth occurs unevenly, which is why the old policial boundary maps needed to be thrown out and redrawn.

The process is extremely nuanced and can feel intimidating.

But it’s also extremely important.

The redistricting maps create new political boundaries, so they determine who is eligible to run for which office, which political races Idahoans are eligible to vote in and, ultimately, who will represent Idahoans in the Idaho Legislature and in Congress for the next 10 years.

Many states handle redistricting differently, and in many states, the legislature is in charge of redistricting. Idaho is one of 14 states that uses a bipartisan commission — three members appointed by Republicans and three members appointed by Democrats.

Commissioners traveled across Idaho in the fall of 2021, conducting 18 public hearings and gathering public input over redistricting. They then voted to approve the congressional and legislative maps on Nov. 10 and turned the redistricting plan into the Secretary of State’s Office on Nov. 12. Commissioners said they liked their maps and plans because they were balanced and attempted to minimize the differences in population between different districts.

Idaho’s new congressional and legislative maps will remain in place for 10 years. The next redistricting process is scheduled for 2031, following the 2030 census.

Information: legislature.idaho.gov/redistricting/2021