City council elections for Boise, Meridian and Nampa wouldn’t be elected by districts until 2023 under a new bill making its way through the statehouse.
The legislation, brought by Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, cleans up some procedural questions of how Idaho’s largest cities would transition to holding municipal elections in districts, instead of at large. A bill passed in the 2020 session required cities with over 100,000 people to make the change, but it left questions for how lines would be drawn and if sitting council members would have to shorten their terms.
There is also the problem of updated population data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2020 not being available in time to draw lines for a 2021 November election. Winder’s bill would solve these issues by allowing candidates to run for at-large in 2021, but only for two year terms. In 2023, all of the districts would be up for election.
Shake up to the election schedule
To return to a staggered election schedule, members elected to odd numbered districts would be elected to four year terms and even numbered districts to two year terms. All elections going forward after 2023 would be for four year terms.
The districts will be redrawn every ten years after the census by a committee with county clerks serving as a non-voting member to help oversee the process. If a city’s boundaries change in the meantime, the newly annexed area will be added to the nearest district immediately. They must be contiguous and have a maximum 10% difference in population between the smallest district and the largest one.
When the lines are redrawn, sitting council members may serve the remainder of their terms to keep the staggered schedule.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate State Affairs Committee Monday morning and had support from everyone who testified, including Boise’s City Attorney Jaime Sullivan. Boise heavily opposed the bill in 2020.
“We truly appreciate Winder’s efforts in this process and Representative Palmer’s support in getting this legislation where it is today,” Sullivan said.
Former city council candidate Karen Danley, who made districting for the City of Boise a major part of her 2019 campaign platform, also spoke in favor of the bill. She was a major advocate for the legislation last year and worked with Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, and Winder to draft both bills.
“This amendment balances the concerns using the possibility of delayed 2021 census data, but doesn’t delay the full implementation of districts for city elections.”