Redistricting and gerrymandering are topics in the news as the new US Census approaches. The reason for the renewed attention is because the census results affect the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In other words, as state populations change, the US Legislature reallocates seats to insure proportional representation. This reallocation process also affects the size and boundaries of state legislative districts. Every 10 years, as county populations shift, the state commission adjusts legislative district boundaries. Thus redistricting, based on the census data, is of considerable interest to the political parties. Idaho’s current bi-partisan redistricting commission is relatively immune to political pressure. Unfortunately, the Idaho Senate recently introduced a bill that seems intent on undermining independent oversight of the redistricting process.

Idaho’s Redistricting Process

Idaho’s unique shape; size; distribution of urban and rural populations; and special geography, present a special challenge to any redistricting committee intent on fairness, i.e. assuring equal weight to each vote. Consequently, the commission’s mandate requires that boundaries are set in a way that keep urban areas intact in one district. They also must attempt to use logical geographical lines and define boundaries to include an in-district transportation route. Together, these criteria are weighted and applied to ensure fair apportionment.

Suspicious Timing and Intent

SB105 is ready and awaiting a vote. The fact that the legislation is occuring so late in the session seems suspicious. It looks like an attempt to diminish the chance for public scrutiny and response. It appears that the Republican-dominated Legislature is trying once again to turn the balanced bipartisan commission into a blatantly partisan group by adding additional members chosen by the party in power. (During the last redistricting event, Republican State Central Committee officials tried to fire one of their appointed members for not being partisan enough. Idaho Press-Tribune, Jan. 23, 2012.)

Push Back On Partisan Meddling

The current redistricting commission, passed with strong bipartisan support (64 percent) in 1993, has well served the needs of Idaho and is a model that other states currently in litigation for blatantly partisan gerrymandering should emulate. The current commission allows for transparency, public input, specific guidelines for drawing district lines for fairness and logic, and scrutiny by the Idaho Supreme Court. It works to assure that one’s vote counts equally. Changes to the current commission will permit elected officials to choose their voters instead of voters fairly choosing their elected officials.

Please contact your state senator immediately to express you opposition to this bill. Let’s retain fairness and logic in our redistricting plan.

Written By Paula Neils, Chair – Kootenai County Democrats