BOISE – Idaho’s Supreme Court overturned the state’s new legislative redistricting plan Wednesday, ordering a citizen commission back to work and throwing into doubt the state’s schedule for its May primary election.
This morning, a House committee will consider legislation to push the May primary back to August; the bill is sponsored by state Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the state’s chief election officer, said he isn’t “jumping up and down opposing a move to August.” But, he said, “I happen to believe May’s a better time for an election than August, in the middle of the summer, just with people on vacation.” Idaho’s primary elections already see notoriously low turnout.
The filing period for Idaho’s May 15 primary opens on Feb. 27; every seat in the Legislature is up for election this year, and the state’s majority Republican Party will be holding its first-ever closed primary, with only registered party members allowed to vote.
The redistricting decision further compresses the timing to prepare for that election; now, candidates don’t know which districts they’re to file in or who they’ll be running against. Still, Ysursa said, the state’s citizen redistricting commission is gearing up to reconvene next week; one member reportedly is traveling back from Mexico for the meeting.
“I think the court’s majority decision gave the guidance that they will follow,” Ysursa said. “It’s going to be a plan that has the minimum number of county splits.”
He said if the commission acts quickly and there are no further legal challenges, Idaho could meet its deadlines for a May primary.
The high court justices said the current plan, L-87, divided more counties between legislative districts than was strictly necessary to meet federal constitutional requirements for equalizing population among districts.
“If one plan that complies with the federal constitution divides eight counties and another that also complies divides nine counties, then the extent that counties must be divided in order to comply with the federal constitution is only eight counties,” wrote Justice Daniel Eismann in the 4-1 decision. “It could not be said that dividing one more county was necessary to comply with the Constitution.”
Kootenai County was among a group of counties and cities, led by Twin Falls County, that challenged the plan; both Kootenai and Twin Falls counties were divided in the plan. Twin Falls County was divided among three districts; Kootenai has enough people for three districts within the county, but a chunk of that county was added on to a large new District 7 that stretched to the south, while another piece was joined with southern Bonner County in District 2.
Several other North Idaho counties joined a separate challenge to the redistricting plan that was scheduled for arguments today, but the justices declared that case moot in light of their Wednesday decision.
Ysursa has legislation of his own up for introduction today to eliminate Idaho’s presidential primary election in May, because both parties in Idaho now choose their presidential delegates by caucuses. Both his bill and Loertscher’s will be considered in Loertscher’s committee.
Idaho had its primary election in August until 1980, when it was moved up to May to better fit the presidential election schedule.