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Boise debates geographic diversity in drawing districts for council election

Boise, Meridian, and Nampa are gearing up to create commissions that will draw geographical districts for upcoming city council elections.
Credit: Brian Myrick/ Idaho Press

BOISE, Idaho —

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press. 

Boise, Meridian and Nampa are gearing up to create commissions that will draw geographical districts for upcoming city council elections.

However, the cities are taking different approaches and in Boise, the council has gone back and forth on whether to require geographic diversity in the commission members. Originally, the council moved forward with requiring it on April 12, but on April 19 changed the ordinance. 

In 2020, the Legislature passed HB 413, which required cities with over 100,000 residents to elect council members by geographic district. A follow-up bill the next year, which would have allowed cities to wait until 2023, stalled in the Legislature. 

However, Boise was the only city to hold district elections last year. Meridian and Nampa had unofficial counts above 100,000 until census data was released that officially put them over the 100,000 threshold. 

There has been recent discussion, however, in the respective communities about the establishment of districting commissions and which individuals will draw up the district lines. 

“The more I think about it, the more strong I feel that a person’s ability to deliver help to our city by drawing fair district lines, that fairly allocate votes to districts for voters, really doesn’t depend on where they live,” Boise City Councilmember Patrick Bageant said at the April 19 meeting. 

Other city councilmembers raised similar views. For example, City Council President Elaine Clegg said that a mayor could choose five people who are very similar but live in different areas. 

“I’m the only city councilperson that doesn’t live inside of the North End,” said Councilmember Luci Willits, the lone vote against. Willits is also the only Republican on the city council. “This law was born out of the fact that there was concern that people weren’t being represented.” 

Many councilmembers have been from the same couple of neighborhoods. But the district elections in Boise have created opportunities for the Republican Party that didn’t exist before in citywide races, Idaho GOP Chairman Tom Luna previously told the Idaho Press. 

Lisa Sanchez said the by-district elections are a huge cultural shift. 

“It’s something that was imposed on us,” she said. “Any opportunity that we have to slow this process down and have it be a bit more of what we would like it to be … I think we should do that.” 

Boise City Council members voted five to one to amend the ordinance, removing the requirement for geographic diversity in the commission. The new ordinance said the commissioners must be diverse and represent all Boiseans, including geographically. 

The city of Boise is now looking for feedback on the ordinance, due by noon on May 2. 

On May 3, the council is expected to discuss and make its final vote on the ordinance. 

Structure and Execution 

In Boise’s April 12 council meeting, councilmembers heard from the public on the proposed ordinance. 

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said the council had wanted to do this process before the first district elections, but the legislation came too late. 

“This, tonight, provides the opportunity to have a commission that will then hear from the public and work on drawing maps,” McLean said. 

Director of Strategic Initiatives Hannah Brass Greer said the ordinance will establish the city of Boise Districting Commission. The commission will assign city council seats one through six to the districts. Every 10 years the commission would need to be appointed to develop a new plan with census data. 

Brass Greer said on April 12 the plan is to have five commissioners, to avoid a tie. 

In the coming weeks, Brass Greer said, the city will develop the commission’s policy. The commission would aim to finalize and adopt the map in October or November and the council would approve the map before the end of the year. 

Brass Greer said Boise was working with the cities of Meridian and Nampa. 

Councilmembers and city residents raised issues around geographic diversity but also the requirement that council candidates from the last five years cannot be on the commission. 

Commission members would also not be allowed to run for council for five years after serving. 

Commissioners would be appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council. 

Woodings said she wanted a geographically diverse commission that “represents our whole city.” 

Neighboring Cities

However, the neighboring cities of Nampa and Meridian are doing things a little differently. 

Nampa’s committee will have nine Nampa residents, six of whom must live in specific geographic areas. Three can live anywhere within city limits, according to a news release. 

Anyone who serves on the committee will be ineligible to run for city council in the five years following. 

“The work of the committee is expected to conclude by the end of the year,” a news release said. 

Meridian’s resolution said the commission has until the end of June to send the Meridian Districting Plan to the city clerk. 

This commission has six members, all of whom currently serve on a city commission, Meridian Mayor Robert Simison said during an April 5 work session. 

One is a former city councilmember and one is a current elected official, he added. All have committed to not run for office in the next five years, he said. 

Two reside south of Interstate 84 and four reside north of the interstate, Simison said. The members are split evenly, three who live east and three who live west of Meridian Road. 

“I know they are ready to get to work,” Simison said. 

This story originally appeared in the Idaho Press. Read more at IdahoPress.com 

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