By Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
On election night, 68% of Idaho voters decided in favor of setting the number of state legislative districts at 35 before the 2021 redistricting process. If voters had rejected constitutional amendment HJR 4, the decision on how many districts to create would have been left to the redistricting commission.
Since 1986, the Idaho Constitution has allowed for a range of 30 to 35 legislative districts, represented by 30 to 35 senators and twice as many representatives. Amendment HJR 4 removes that range and fixes the number of districts and senators at 35.
The measure is meant as a preventative one, with backers in the legislature arguing that Idahoans are better served by having the same number of legislators, not fewer, as the state’s population has grown in recent years.
For Idahoans in rural areas, their lawmakers may live several hours away. For those in urban areas, their representatives are basically guaranteed to live in the same city or neighborhood as they do.
13 legislative districts are contained wholly within the borders of Ada and Canyon counties, while some rural districts have four or five entire counties in them.
Growth since the 2010 census means that urban districts are likely to get smaller and denser during redistricting, and without creating more districts, rural districts will get larger as a result. If the redistricting commission had decided to create a map with fewer than 35 districts, it would have accelerated the scale of those differences further.
Cities in “doughnut districts” surrounded on all sides by a larger district, such as Idaho Falls and Pocatello, will likely start to look more like Coeur d’Alene or the Treasure Valley as city populations continue to grow.
There have been 35 districts ever since the 30 to 35 range was established prior to the 1990 census. The redistricting commission could have chosen to keep the new map at 35 districts even if voters had rejected HJR 4, but passage of the amendment guarantees it.
You can listen to the Idaho Reports podcast episode about the amendment here: