Eye On Boise

MONDAY, OCT. 24, 2011, 9:12 A.M.

Redistricters decry ‘unnecessary law’ that led first panel to impasse

Another political ripple from this year's redistricting could affect two state laws passed in 2009 that left Idaho’s first redistricting commission this year at an impasse: The three GOP members insisted on following those laws, which required a supermajority to split precincts or draw districts without connecting roads; while the three Democratic members said the laws were unconstitutional, because the Idaho Constitution requires just a four-vote majority to approve a new plan. They noted that the constitution also makes avoiding splitting counties a top concern, above either of those questions.

The second commission, appointed after the first panel deadlocked, voted unanimously to suspend both laws, and all six members said the ban on splitting precincts made no sense and should be repealed. Precincts are redrawn by counties right after the redistricting process; some are so outdated they cut through houses. "It's unnecessary law," said Democratic Commissioner Shauneen Grange. Said GOP Commissioner Sheila Olsen, "It's hard enough to do the apportionment without having to worry about precincts."

GOP Commissioner Randy Hansen said the group tried to follow precinct lines at first, but found them a mess. "We said this is ridiculous - the people will hate us," he said. Instead, they heeded county clerks' advice to use major roads as recognizable boundaries between districts.

The commissioners paid some respect to the road rule by noting road connections in their legal findings justifying the new districts, but several said that law was unnecessary, too. However, Democratic Commission Co-Chair Ron Beitelspacher, a former longtime state senator, said his "personal recommendation" would be to wait until after the next election before considering any legislation to change the redistricting process. With so many current legislators landing in districts with fellow incumbents, he said, feelings might be too raw just yet to take it up.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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