Why HJR4 is Bad for Idaho
Definition of gerrymandering: the practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections
Editorial by Chris Pentico
The Idaho Constitution allows for 30-35 legislative districts, while HJR4 fixes it to just 35. Currently, HJR4 is being conflated with a push for one senator per county in Idaho; these are separate issues.
Idaho currently has 7 counties being split; these are Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville, Bannock, Twin Falls, and Bonner. The first six counties would be larger than one legislative district regardless if 30 or 35 districts were used. Boundary County is only accessible by Bonner County. By growing the population size of a legislative district, Bonner and Boundary Counties can form their own legislative district; this is possible with maps using 30 to 32 districts.
Adopting HJR4 will force the 7 counties being split to continue being split, would split Latah County, and one or two counties south of Idaho County as well. In other words, Idaho will have 9 or 10 counties split.
Latah County is split in all maps except 30 and 33 district maps because pairing combinations are exhausted. Some historical maps have done this as well. The 33-district map is not highway contiguous and can keep Latah whole, but it will move the split to another panhandle county. HJR4 will force a minimum of 8 counties being split with just these considerations.
The next criteria to examine is the number of county splits. The criteria after this is “if a map can be drawn without splitting a precinct, it takes precedent over a map that does split a precinct.” There is analysis that shows 30 and 32 district maps can attain less county splits than what is possible in any 35-district map without splitting a precinct. That information was shared with the Idaho Republican House leadership almost two years ago with sample maps.
“Will Ada County have enough people for 10 districts?” This is where a redistricting constitutional crisis can occur. Federal guidelines allow a ± 5.0% margin in redrawing district lines. For Ada County to qualify for 10 districts, it needs the equivalent population of 9.500 legislative districts; this is just over 27.14% of the population of Idaho. Using U.S. Census number estimates, the 2010-2019 percent change gives a linear projection of 27.13% of Idaho’s population will reside in Ada County for 2020. The 2018-2019 percent change gives a linear projection of 27.12% for 2020. Remember these rates of change are pre-COVID-19. This suggests Ada County will “barely” make or miss this target.
The key word is “barely.” Suppose Ada County gets the equivalent of 9.520 districts for population. Ada County would have the equivalent of 0.020 of a district’s population for a margin to draw 10 districts. In other words, the 10 Ada County legislative districts would each have a margin of ± 10 or 11 people in redrawing lines. This would force every map of Ada County to split precincts. If a map can be drawn without splitting a precinct, it takes precedent over a map that does split a precinct. The redistricting rules would be gutted.
Additionally, the rest of Idaho would have to compensate by absorbing almost a half-district deficit in population. This would effectively make the margins ± 3.0%. These margins would split at least one more county at least and most probably two counties located south of Idaho County.
If Ada County does not qualify for 10 legislative districts, Ada becomes a feeder county and Boise city Democrats would have their normal areas encroached. Pocatello would be safe for Democrats. Blaine County could be targeted. Latah County is split. The Idaho Democrat party can legitimately claim that redistricting was used to wipe out their party. This is strictly forbidden in the redistricting guidelines. Remember, the official redistricting committee for Idaho is composed of 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats.
Were these details discussed by legislators or brought to the public forefront? I think not.
The author is the only Republican that was identified doing a statewide redistricting analysis for Idaho 10 years ago at their Convention.
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