BOISE, Idaho — Changes are coming to how Boise residents vote for their city council members.
On Tuesday, The Boise City Council approved an ordinance on a new redistricting map that will inform the process on how council seats will now be elected by geographic district, meaning a candidate must live in the district they represent and only residents of that district can vote for them.
The new approach replaces the previous at-large system which allowed the whole city to vote on each open position.
The changes come after a state law that passed during the 2020 legislative session which requires cities with more than 100,000 people to elect officials by district instead of citywide elections. Council member Holli Woodings said she wasn’t pleased with the idea of districting but supported the ordinance to follow state law.
“I’ll be supporting this ordinance because it keeps us in line with Idaho statute. To make sure we’re not getting sideways with the laws, governor state and put us in the place where we need to be to hold elections in 2021,” Woodings said.
The Boise Idaho redistricting map includes 6 districts and Council President Elaine Clegg said a counsel team helped developed the drawings.
“We got some odd things happening geographically in Boise. We got the river, we got Garden city splitting, we got the foothills, we got the benches. Given of all that, we kept these districts as geographically, continuously, and coherent as possible and still balance the population and recognized communities of interest in the neighborhood association,” Clegg said.
City officials say they felt rushed to make the changes and weren’t able to get as much public feedback as they wanted because they had to implement the changes 120 days before the upcoming November 2021 election.
“While I think it’s really unfortunate we weren’t able to put this decision more in your hands to make sure your voices were heard,” said Council member Jimmy Hallyburton. “I think we are doing the best we can with what we can do to move forward with this.”
The changes make for an unusual November election under the new rules, three-seat districts one, two, and five will be on the ballot, which means residents in two, four, and six won't be voting. But the winners of the November election will only serve a two-year term instead of the normal four, that way all council seats will be open at once in 2023 and residents can elect new leaders.
The city does plan to update the map once they get the numbers for the 2020 census and say they hope to have more public feedback at that time.
City Council President Pro Tem, Lisa Sánchez believes the at-large system made it possible for her to get elected and now is concern the changes might make it harder to fill seats with people from different experiences.
“The work that I’ve done for the past four years has not been about living in the Northend. It’s been about being a renter, It’s been about somebody who is a member of the working poor, it’s been about somebody who comes from a community of color. That’s what I bring to the decision-making process. My worry is that with this districting we are going to be adopting, is that it’s going to make it harder for us to have a diverse perspective at sitting at this dais,” Sánchez said.