BOISE — A former state lawmaker on Friday sued Idaho’s redistricting commission, contending that the new map redrawing Idaho’s 35 legislative districts is unconstitutional because it splits up more counties than necessary.
Branden Durst filed the lawsuit against the bipartisan Idaho Commission for Reapportionment and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney.
The commission was tasked with redrawing the districts based on the population as counted in the 2020 census. Idaho has been one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, and the commissioners examined where that growth occurred and attempted to create districts roughly equal in population, with about 52,000 residents each.
The commission is required to map new legislative districts that do not have more than a 10% population variance and they are supposed to avoid dividing counties into multiple districts as much as possible.
Still, there is no way to avoid some splits. “Internal splits” occur when a legislative district is contained entirely within one count and “external splits” occur when a portion of a county is joined with other counties to create a district.
Durst — who is running for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction as a Republican — said in the lawsuit that the plan the commission adopted divides eight counties externally with a total of 13 external splits between them.
He wants the Idaho Supreme Court to order the commission to use a different map that divides seven counties externally with a total of nine external splits, or to order the commission to come up with a new map.
Under state law, the Idaho Supreme Court has jurisdiction over redistricting challenges. The law sets a 35-day time period for challenging redistricting maps, starting from the day the maps are filed with the Secretary of State. The map challenged in Durst’s lawsuit, however, had not yet been received by the Secretary of State’s office when the lawsuit was filed. It’s not yet clear how that might impact the legal case.
Redistricting lawsuits are common, with at least 10 cases filed over the last four redistricting attempts dating back to 1981.
In 2011, then-Secretary of State Ben Ysursa sued after Idaho’s redistricting committee failed to meet the deadline to agree to on new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.
Ysursa wanted the high court to declare the map drawn in 2002 unconstitutional ahead of the 2012 election and order the redistricting committee to go back to work.
But the justices said that without any new maps to consider, they lacked the legal authority to get involved. Still, the justices said they would consider the constitutionality of the 2002 apportionment plan if anyone filed a case challenging it.
Twin Falls County sued over redistricting the following year, contending the map divided counties more than necessary. After considering the case, the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the commission to consider a new map.
In 2001 and 2002, three lawsuits were filed over Idaho’s then-new redistricting maps, contending that the maps failed to preserve traditional neighborhoods and communities of interest, that the commission was inconsistent in its decisions statewide or that it allowed too much population deviations between districts.