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Legislation would alter Idaho’s redistricting commission

February 6, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers voted Wednesday to consider a change to the Idaho Constitution to add a seventh member to the independent commission that redraws congressional and legislative maps.

The House State Affairs Committee voted to conduct a hearing on the proposal. If it passes by a two-thirds majority in the GOP-dominated Senate and House, the plan would then go to the voters for approval.

Redistricting is important because it can decide which party gets the majority of congressional and state legislative seats. It is a contentious issue nationwide. Currently, the commission in Idaho is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats.

The seventh commissioner would be selected by the governor, lieutenant governor, state controller, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction. Republicans say the change is needed after problems arose during the last redistricting, which finished in 2012.

“We can’t continue to have a system that is automatically set up for litigation,” said Rep. Steve Harris, a Republican who brought the legislation before the committee. “An odd number of commissioners would eliminate that problem.”

Democrats say the change will allow congressional and legislative districts to be drawn to favor Republican candidates.

“Put simply, this will gerrymander Idaho, and make Idaho even more partisan,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding. “Our current system ensures collaboration and fairness.”

Currently, districts for Congress and the state Legislature are drawn every 10 years by the six-member commission answerable only to the courts. The majority and minority party leaders in each legislative chamber each select one person to serve on the commission; the state chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties also each select a commissioner. Commissioners cannot be government officials or lobbyists.

At least two-thirds of the commissioners must approve a redistricting map. Commissions over the years have faced lengthy legal battles before settling on new district boundaries. Idaho has been dominated by Republican-elected officials for the past two decades.

“This is a fair and proactive approach to the process,” Harris said. “We need to eliminate ways that simply put us all in court.”

Erpelding disagreed. “It eliminates a bipartisan process and creates a perverse process in which decisions will be made behind closed doors and acted out in public,” he said.

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