Idaho's citizen redistricting commission is hearing from the state attorney general's office this morning about legal precedents on population variance between congressional districts, and on splitting counties between congressional districts. "The zero deviation does seem to be preferred by the court," Deputy Attorney General Megan Mooney told the commission, and Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore concurred. "So the bottom line is the more equal you can get 'em, the better for the voter," said Commissioner Julie Kane.
It matters because the big question in dividing Idaho into two congressional districts is whether to continue to divide Ada County between the two districts, as it has been since 1971, or whether to move it fully into one district or the other, which would dictate a much different division of the state. Here's the issue: Idaho can be divided into two districts without splitting any counties, with a difference of plus or minus 278 people between the two districts - a very low deviation. But with a split of Ada County, it can be divided into two exactly equal districts, which identical numbers of people in each.
Commissioner George Moses said, "I'm very concerned that we're going to get stampeded into zero or nothing. This is a political process, and we should not be afraid to make political decisions. ... I'm wondering if we're not raising the specter of a lawsuit far higher than it ought to be realistically." Commissioner Lou Esposito asked Gilmore, "Are we better off to go to the zero deviation, with dividing a county, because that's our best position?" Gilmore responded, "That I believe is an essentially political decision and not a legal decision. And the reason I say that is, it is clear that you can go to zero to meet equal protection challenges. But it is also clear that U.S. Supreme Court case law has affirmed deviations as high as the 270s, if it's done to meet an articulable state standard."