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If Gov. Little signs it, council district bill would reshape Boise politics

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A bill to change how city council seats are elected in Idaho’s largest cities could reshape politics in Boise, Meridian and Nampa in years to come.

The bill passed both the senate and house, and moves next to Gov. Brad Little for his signature. If passed, it would require cities with more than 100,000 residents to elect council members by district.

Currently, all council elections are at large – meaning any citizen in the city can vote in all the council elections. But if passed, it means you would only vote for a council member in your district – and that council member would have to live in the district.

In Boise, currently, all but one council member lives in the north or east ends of the city.

A set of six districts, made up of equal population, would, in theory, mean some of the current council members would face a choice:

  • Run against another current council member for the same seat.
  • Move to the new district.
  • Chose not to run again.
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The bill’s language doesn’t outline how a transition would take place. Currently, three of Boise’s six seats are up every two years. The next council election, set for 2021, would put the seats currently held by TJ Thomson, Lisa Sánchez and Holli Woodings in front of voters.

According to election filings, Sánchez lives near Camel’s Back Park in the North End, Woodings lives near Military Reserve in the East End, and Thomson lives in the area of Cloverdale and McMillan.

For the next election cycle, in 2023, the seats just elected last fall would be up. Elaine Clegg lives near North Junior High, Patrick Bageant lives near Hyde Park and Jimmy Hallyburton lives near the Crane Creek golf club.

The new state law leaves the districting process up to the council itself, except to say the districts should be roughly equal in size. While the council could draw districts that split the north and east ends into more than one district, it’s likely some districts would include only parts of the city outside the two areas closest to downtown.

The bill does not impact the election of the mayor, which would remain citywide.

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