by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Supreme Court heard the sole challenge to Idaho’s congressional redistricting map this week, bringing the state one step closer to finalized electoral maps that will be in place for the next decade.
On Monday, Jan. 24, the court heard arguments on whether the 2021 redistricting commission completed its work within its required 90-day timeframe, and whether the commission is legally allowed to split voting precincts in its congressional plan.
Petitioner Chris Pentico argues that that 90-day redistricting timeline set in the state constitution begins upon the Secretary of State’s order forming the commission, rather than upon the date of the commission’s first meeting.
The disagreement comes down to constitutional language outlining the formation of the commission.
Article III, Section 2, subsection 2 of the state constitution reads, “a commission for reapportionment shall be formed on order of the secretary of state.” The section later stipulates, “Within ninety days after the commission has been organized or the necessary census data are available, whichever is later, the commission shall file a proposed plan,” in subsection 4.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denny issued an order forming the 2021 Commission for Reapportionment on August 12, 2021, which coincided with the release of block-level census data from the federal government. Based on that date, Pentico argues, the commission missed its 90-day deadline by two days when it submitted its final report to the Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 12.
“We are arguing that upon the order of the Secretary of State, that is when the commission is organized,” said Pentico’s attorney Edward Dindnger.
The justices questioned the rationale of that date, pointing out that the state constitution allows up to 15 days following the order for political party leaders to select the commissioners. They asked whether the clock should start upon the Secretary’s order to form the commission, when the sixth commission member is appointed, when that fifteen-day appointment window ends, or when the commission first meets.
“It appears they would benefit by clarification by this court,” Dindinger said.
This redistricting cycle, the six commissioners were selected and publicly announced before the official order from the Secretary of State.
Deputy Attorney General Megan Larrondo argued on behalf of the commission and the Secretary of State. She argued that the constitutional language of “formed” and “organized” should not be used interchangeably, and urged the court to accept the commission’s final plan.
The second issue at hand was whether the commission is able to legally split existing voter precincts in its congressional redistricting map.
State statute outlines that the commission “shall retain the local voting precinct boundary lines to the extent” possible. However, if the commission finds it cannot comply with that requirement, commissioners can vote to waive it and the precinct line requirement “shall not apply to the commission or legislative redistricting plan it shall adopt.”
Dindinger argued that those provisions only apply to the legislative redistricting plan, not the congressional one, so the commission does not have the legal authority to split existing precincts in its congressional map.
Pentico also argues that the commission can only opt out of the statutory requirements if they literally cannot create a map that complies, not as a matter of preference. His submitted congressional map, C039, does not split any existing voter precincts.
Larrondo pointed out that multiple county clerks and commissioners had testified to the redistricting commission that they planned to redraw their precincts following redistricting. She argued it would be absurd to bind a redistricting commission to local voting precinct boundaries that they know are going to be thrown out anyway.
Larrondo also argued that precincts are simply an administrative tool for county clerks, and that state statute should not be interpreted to rank them at a higher importance in redistricting than counties or communities of interest.
“They are important tools, but there is no reason they should be elevated to sacrosanct status,” Larrondo said.
The Supreme Court heard four challenges to the legislative redistricting plan two weeks ago. No decision has been made yet in either case.