BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Supreme Court justices heard arguments Monday in the sole challenge of the state’s new congressional redistricting plan, and they focused on when the redistricting commission’s 90-day timeclock started running and whether or not it’s OK to split six voting precincts in Ada County between the state’s two congressional districts.
GOP activist Chris Pentico, represented by attorney Edward Dindinger, wants the high court to overturn the new congressional plan, C-3, and contends the only plan that meets all legal requirements is a different plan he submitted, C-39. That plan, like C-3, splits Ada County between the two congressional districts, but it doesn’t divide voting precincts.
Deputy Idaho Attorney General Megan Larrondo told the justices that Pentico’s arguments would lead to an absurd result. “This would handcuff the commission to old precinct lines that it categorically knew would no longer exist,” she said. “The congressional plan complied with governing law.”
Ada County officials specifically asked the commission to ignore existing precinct lines, she said, because they planned to redraw those after redistricting was completed. Larrondo said voting precincts are “tools of administrative convenience to manage voting” that are created by counties, and can be redrawn by counties.
“There is no requirement that they be equi-populous, they’re not like districts,” Larrondo said. “The only statutory requirement is that there be two per county.”
“There’s no reason to really elevate these tools to some sort of sacrosanct status,” she said, noting that Pentico’s arguments would make keeping voting precincts intact more important than preserving communities of interest in drawing new congressional districts.
Dindinger said he believed the way state law and the Constitution are written, the commission may vote to waive a requirement to preserve precinct lines in drawing legislative districts, but not in congressional districts. It voted to do so in both.
Larrondo noted that the same voting precincts are used for all types of elections.
The justices had lots of questions, particularly for Dindinger, from the meaning of particular words in the law and Constitution to whether the wording is ambiguous.
Dindinger decried suggestions from the state that Pentico’s own congressional map contained “oddly shaped” districts. “Respondents believe that his map contains an elephant trunk. Mr. Pentico believes the commission’s map contains a rhinoceros horn,” he told the court.
Justice Greg Moeller responded, “The ‘rhinoceros horn’ that you refer to follows the highway, Highway 84, and the county line of Ada. The ‘elephant trunk,’ as you put it … appears just to kind of arbitrarily go through Kuna and then south through Ada County … whereas the commission’s lines appear to be based on actual geographic and political subdivisions.”
Moeller said it “doesn’t appear to follow anything objective, other than precinct lines.”
Pentico’s argument about the commission’s 90-day time clock was that it should have started ticking on Aug. 12, when the Idaho Secretary of State issued an order establishing the commission, rather than on Sept. 1, when the commission held its first meeting, organized and elected its co-chairs, and began deliberations and hearings. However, both state law and the Constitution tie the 90 days to “organization,” in state law, and to when the “commission has been organized,” in the Constitution.
At the close of the hour-long arguments, the justices took the case under advisement; they’ll issue their ruling later in writing.
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