A few thoughts on Idaho’s 2020 constitutional amendment

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Several people have asked me about House Joint Memorial 4. HJR 4 appears on this year’s general election ballot. If passed, it would strike a handful of words from the Idaho State Constitution. As currently written, the Constitution allows the state to be divided up into 30 to 35 legislative districts. HJR 4 would fix the number of districts at 35. 

Right now, a state redistricting commission gets to decide whether there are 30 districts, 31 districts, 32, and so on. As long as the number is between 30 and 35, that’s within the power of the redistricting commission. 

Arguably an unelected, unaccountable board comprised of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans should not be in a position to arbitrarily determine the number of legislative districts. Since the 1990s, there have been 35 legislative districts.  Fixing the number of legislative districts at 35 would keep the status quo. HJR 4 would prevent the formation of new, even bigger legislative districts in which rural voices are drowned out by urban centers. 

The state’s reapportionment process is badly in need of an overhaul. There’s no good reason why Democrats, who tend to garner about a third of the vote on a good day, should hold an equal number of seats as Republicans on the panel that fixes legislative district boundaries. 

The system is set up so, as time goes on, population centers control the state Legislature. This also needs to be fixed to ensure all voices are represented well in the Legislature. 

HJR4 doesn’t address either of those issues. Over the last 20 years, rural voices have lost power to urban interests in Ada and Canyon counties. And the legislature will need to ask voters to amend the Constitution to fix this problem before 2030. This gives lawmakers only five more turns at bat.

Despite its shortcomings, HJR 4 does prevent an unelected board from having too much unchecked power. HJR 4 would prevent the commission from drawing a legislative map that eliminates five  districts and 15 state legislative seats. In that regard, HJR 4 is a step, although a small one, in a good direction.