HJR4: The Question on the Back of Idaho’s 2020 General Election ballot

While information about the presidential candidates has been all over the news the last several months, you may not be aware of the Idaho State Constitutional Amendment that you will be asked to cast a vote for on November 3rd. The backside of the ballot has only one question: should the number of Idaho legislative districts and senators be locked in at 35? Since there is bipartisan support as well as bipartisan opposition to this amendment (a rare occurrence in today’s polarized politics), voters may want to take an in-depth look at this issue. For those who are running short on time, Madison Liberty Institute has prepared a brief overview of the pros and cons of the proposed amendment.

Q&A: THE QUICK FACTS

Q. How many constitutional amendments are on the Idaho ballot for election day on November 3, 2020?

Answer: 1

Q. What’s the topic?

Answer: The number of legislative districts in Idaho

Q. How many do we have now?

Answer: 35

Q. How long have we had 35 districts?

Answer: Twenty-eight years – since 1992

Q. What does the constitution currently say about the number of Idaho legislative districts?

Answer: The constitution allows for Idaho to have between 30-35 districts, with the same number of senators (one for each district). This amendment, if passed, will eliminate the range and set the number of districts and senators at 35.

Q. Why is it important now? 

Answer: Idaho reviews and has a chance to increase, decrease, or change districts after every census; or, in other words, once every ten years. This amendment is being proposed now in preparation for the redistricting decisions that will occur next year after the population numbers have been reassessed based on the new census data. 

DIVING INTO THE DETAILS

Arguments FOR the amendment:

  • This change will protect the public’s ability to interact with their legislators. No one wants to experience less access to their elected official because that official has more constituents to serve due to fewer legislators or bigger districts. Voting “YES” on the amendment ensures that representation will essentially remain the same.
  • Less than 35 districts would also lead to more urban and rural areas being represented by the same elected official, making it harder for their individual interests to be fairly represented.

Further explanation on these points can be found at this link (pg 2) in the official voters’ guide provided by the State of Idaho. 

Arguments AGAINST the amendment: 

  • If Idaho were to redistrict and decide to have 31, 32, 33, or 34 districts and senators instead of 35, less taxpayer money would be needed to maintain legislative offices and salaries.
  • It is suggested that a change to the state constitution creates a cost of at least $200,000 in updates to current laws and publications. 
  • Considering Idaho’s population growth, there is strong support for more than 35 districts and senators. This year, the Idaho Republican Central Committee, the Republican Party’s main governing body in Idaho, passed resolution P6 (can be found here on page 9) that supported an increase to 35-45 legislative districts and senators. 
  • There is growing support for amending the current system altogether for something more along the lines of “nested” districts. According to Ballotpedia, nested refers to the “practice of using the voting districts of one body to define the voting districts of another body. For example, a state may require that each district of its upper chamber comprise two or three complete lower chamber districts.” This form of districting would essentially have state senators in an at-large capacity per legislative district with members of the House representing their own smaller “nested” district. (To simplify, let’s talk about something most everyone understands – pizza. Senators would represent a whole pizza while members of the House would represent large slices of the pizza.) This would allow the elected state government to be closer to the people. Therefore, there is concern that passage of HJR4 may prevent further consideration of such options.  
  • Lastly, in Idaho, redistricting is done by the Citizens’ Commission for Reapportionment, which is required by law to (as much as possible) keep districts equal in population numbers and refrain from dividing communities and counties. If the redistricting doesn’t comply with those requirements, the decisions can be challenged in court. 

Further explanation of arguments against HJR4 can be found at this link (pg 3) in the official voters’ guide provided by the State of Idaho. 

In conclusion, those who support the amendment believe it will protect the state from weaker representation, while those who are against the amendment are not satisfied with sustaining the current level of representation and would like to see representation increased through alternative methods of districting. Regardless of your decision on this issue, the Madison Liberty Institute encourages you to show up to the polls on election day to participate in our Republican form of government and exercise your right to vote!