The City of Boise has a new districting map in town and not everybody is happy about it.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council Members unanimously voted to move ahead the adoption of the city council district map that will govern city council elections for the next decade. This map is the product of a months-long process with two public hearings and twenty possible maps considered by Boise’s Redistricting Commission before they voted on the proposal to send to city council to approve.
The map is divisive, even among redistricting commissioners who narrowly voted 3-2 to approve it at their final meeting. While the proposal keeps all of Boise’s voting precincts from being split into different districts and they have as little deviation in population as possible, it splits eleven neighborhood associations. Those testifying against the map were especially concerned with its treatment of West Boise and the decision to create a district that encompasses the western edge of the city from north of Interstate 84 down to Southwest Boise.
The ordinance adopting the map must be approved by the council twice more, which is usually a formality. Those votes are set for the next two Tuesdays.
But, ultimately, the city’s ordinance was written in such a way that council members have no involvement in drawing the maps themselves. They are only tasked with deciding whether or not the map the Redistricting Commission drew matches the city’s legal requirements or not, and so all six council members gave it the thumbs up.
“It does carve up with West Boise in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I don’t think we want city council people changing boundaries up here,” City Council Member Luci Willits, who represents West Boise, said. “That is too cozy and not what our democracy needs. It’s a map I wouldn’t have chosen, but the legal requirements are such and we need to uphold what the legal requirements were.”
‘The gold standard’
In drawing a districting map, you can’t simply draw any old map.
Election district mapping procedures are spelled out in the United States Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, Idaho code and the requirements laid out by the Boise City Council in its ordinance. These rules require districts to have as equal in population as possible and prevent them from being drawn to dilute the voting power of racial or language-speaking minorities or for any other discriminatory purpose.
Per Boise City code, the districts also must be compact and cannot be drawn to protect any incumbents. Code also gave the redistricting commission the latitude to create a completely new map from scratch, rather than relying on the current map drawn by a legal consultant in 2021 as a starting point.
City policy also instructed the commissioners to keep communities of interest, like neighborhood associations together to the fullest extent possible, and not to split voting precincts to the fullest extent possible.
Hannah Brass Greer, the city’s staffer who worked on the redistricting with the commission, said the two most important factors in maps the commission considered were keeping the different in population in districts as low as possible and not splitting election precincts.
“We did not have map better than (the adopted map) that had zero splits and lower neighborhood association splits and low population deviation,” Greer said. “This was the gold standard.”
The public weighs in
Greer said there were plenty of written comments and testimony in support of the proposed map, but the majority of the speakers at Tuesday’s council meeting were not pleased it.
Several residents from West Boise said the map incorrectly reflected their community and combined neighborhoods in the more densely packed, suburban West Boise with the more rural Southwest Boise. They argued the redistricting commission drew the district as an afterthought while giving more due consideration to other parts of the city and their needs.
“I keep hearing we need to make sacrifices, but why?” Christie Warhurst said. “Why does West Boise have to do all of the adjusting?…The stress of adjusting to those who could care less about us is taxing on the mind and body.”
Rob Stark from the Barber Valley Neighborhood Association also testified against the map, saying it separated the Harris Ranch area from similar communities in Southeast Boise like Columbia Village. Former City Council and Republican Idaho State Legislature candidate Lee Joe Lay said the map was an attempt to create more Democratic control of the City of Boise and instead he preferred the 2021 map drawn by an outside legal consultant even though it did not include any public input.
“I would say that despite all the work that’s been done, whatever the consultant drew up was a better map than what this is.”
There were also two comments in support of the map at Boise City Council’s hearing. Bailey Bingham called the map “phenomenal” considering all of the laws it had to comply with.
“It’s one of those things where it’s going to be 6 districts and any time you cut those districts from a large town it’s not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “It’s a good final map.”