Only Boise will hold by-district elections this year while the cities of Meridian and Nampa await U.S. Census results to confirm they’ve grown to more than 100,000 residents.
SB 1111, a bill meant to clean up a 2020 law compelling Idaho’s largest cities to elect city council members by geographic district, rather than citywide, was shelved this month by the Idaho Legislature, when the Senate adjourned and House recessed. Spurred by a delay in 2020 Census data — which is necessary to draw accurate districts — SB 1111 would have allowed cities with populations over 100,000 to wait until 2023 to alter their elections. Last year’s HB 413, which became law, requires those cities to create districts ahead of this year’s election.
The bill’s failure to pass raised questions among city officials about how to handle November’s elections. Boise, Meridian and Nampa are the only three Idaho cities with more than 100,000 residents, but that population benchmark for Meridian and Nampa remains unofficial until 2020 Census results are released. Results aren’t anticipated until September, said Rick Hogaboam, chief of staff in the Nampa Mayor’s Office.
As a result, Meridian and Nampa won’t shift to by-district elections this year.
Meridian Mayor Robert Simison said in an emailed statement, “While the City of Meridian remains dedicated to responsibly implementing council districts in the future, once the U.S. Census officially establishes a (100,000) population, Meridian’s 2021 election is not impacted by SB1111 and its failure to become law. For that reason our elections will take place under existing law and not have districts for City Council.”
Boise moves ahead
Meanwhile, Boise is moving ahead with creating the districts, said Kathy Griesmyer, director of government affairs for the city of Boise. Last year’s HB 413 requires the district be established about four months ahead of the 2021 election. Griesmyer said city staff is “working very quickly” to meet that deadline, and Boise officials likely will make an announcement regarding districts this summer.
Boise City Council members with terms expiring this November are Lisa Sánchez, TJ Thomson and Holli Woodings. Thomson said he doesn’t intend to run for reelection.
Initially backed by city leaders and sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, SB 1111 had unanimous support in the Senate before it was hijacked by the House and amended. One consequential amendment was to change city elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years alongside state and federal races, a move critics say was meant to make city elections more partisan.
“Some legislators would like to see all elections moved to the same year so that they can all be partisan in nature rather than nonpartisan,” said Kelley Packer, executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities. “That’s really sad because our local electeds are the closest you can get to the people and to the service needs of those people, including water and sewer, garbage removal and so forth. Those are not partisan issues.”
The amendments ultimately foiled SB 1111. A substitute bill — HB 319, sponsored by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle — passed the House, but the Senate has did not take it up.