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The plan to freeze the number of Idaho legislative districts moves a step closer to the ballot

Posted: 11:46 AM, Feb 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-26 13:46:13-05

BOISE, Idaho — A Constitutional amendment to set the number of Idaho legislative districts at 35 -- and number of lawmakers at 105 -- moved a step closer Wednesday to going before voters in November.

The proposal, already passed in the Republican-dominated House, now goes to the GOP-dominated Senate for a vote, where it is likely to be approved. The Senate State Affairs Committee passed the plan Wednesday along a 4-2 party line vote.

One senator and two representatives come from each district, which will be redrawn by a state commission next year after 2020 Census figures are finalized.

Previous redistricting efforts have ended up in the courts over accusations of gerrymandering. There’s concern among Republicans that any future redistricting fights could end with a judge mandating a reduction in the number of districts.

“The redistricting process has never been easy,” said Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill. “It almost always ends up in the (Idaho) Supreme Court.” He said the Constitutional amendment is needed to prevent the court from ruling on the number of districts.

Hill said Idaho is growing quickly; having fewer districts would mean more voters in each district, and result in less access to their elected officials.

It’s not clear whether fixing the number of districts at 35 would be an advantage for either Republicans or Democrats. Still, Democrats said it’s premature to tinker with the Constitution.

“I want to make sure that no district is disadvantaged by making this kind of rush to action to make a change about what might happen with regard to population growth,” Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb said after the meeting.

An effort last year by Republicans to add a seventh member to the Idaho Commission for Reapportionment failed after Democrats said it was a purely partisan attempt to give Republicans a majority.

Republican House Majority Leader Scott Bedke said he was pleased the Senate committee advanced it.

“This is not going to be our call,” he said. “It’s going to be the citizens’ call.”

(by Keith Ridler, Associated Press)