While the members of the Idaho Legislature may have packed up their belongings and vacated the Capitol building, this summer marks a political phenomenon that relates to their job security: redistricting. In an eight-hour conference led by Dr. Gary Moncrief of Boise State on Saturday, April 16, legislators, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and members of the Idaho press weighed in on the decennial process. The conference served as a sort of primer of what's to come and why.
With the 2010 census data compiled and provided to the states, so begins the process of making legislative districts match up to population-linked precincts, or voting blocks. That process is called apportionment, and the goal is to make Idaho’s representative body in both the state and national governments match populations as they’ve changed around the state.
Through the latter half of 2011, a six-member committee consisting of three Democrats and three Republicans who are hand-picked by legislative leadership will set to work divvying up the population evenly among the legislative districts, plus or minus 10 percent.
Idaho’s population swelled in the past decade to roughly 1.5 million people, and that’s brought the ideal range for each of the state's current 35 legislative districts to approximately 44,788 people. The current range is 34,066 people at the lowest and 76,940 at the highest. As a result, the precincts that lost population will have to be consolidated into larger districts, and inversely a redistricting commission will have to carve up sections that have grown.
What does all this mean for the average voter? If your abode falls on or near the legislative line, you could be moved into a neighboring district. Particularly in the case of Boise City and West Boise, growing suburban populations that lean right are affecting historically Blue Dog urban districts near the city proper. In fact, Ad County districts 15 through 19 are all below the minimum, meaning they’ll need to scoop up more population from nearby subdivision hubs. As rural counties lost population, like in the case of the Magic and Wood River Valleys, the already large and far-flung districts will continue to grow geographically.
Prior to the 2000, the Idaho Legislature managed redistricting. Now it’s done by the appointed commission. While the new system allows lawmakers to focus on their work (rather than drawing lines to keep their jobs, as in 1991), Tom Stewart, a commissioner from 2001 summed up last weekend's redistricting conference at Boise State:
“It’s still a political process, I don’t think there’s any way you can avoid that.”
In the coming months, Boise Weekly will report on redistricting in more depth.