Just before 5 p.m. yesterday, Twin Falls County fired the first — and most likely only — salvo to challenge Idaho’s political boundaries.
We were originally critical of the county’s decision to complicate the process. But, the more we examine both the laws and the legal challenge, the more we become convinced that Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs may have a point.
Regardless of how anyone feels about the current map, how it distributes clout and what it does to seated representatives, the laws are fairly clear.
The case is a simple one of hierarchy. The following rules have to be adhered to, in this order of priority:
1) The U.S. Constitution (in particular, the 14th amendment) calls for “one person, one vote,” and says that the arrangement has to distribute clout as equal as possible.
2) Idaho’s constitution says that county lines must be broken as few times as necessary to comply with the above law.
3) Idaho’s laws contain a series of rules that we’ve discussed a lot over the past 6 months. Among them: districts can’t be oddly shaped or “gerrymandered,” communities of interest should be preserved, and a state highway should connect districts.
If you accept the fact that a state law can never trump the state constitution, the map becomes a lot easier to draw. The current plan that was created by the redistricting commission carves up counties more times than they needed to be.
This is where Loebs’ suit makes its stand, and it’s an approach we have a hard time arguing against.
Loebs has put forth a solution to the existing map. While he says that the ultimate decision for boundary lines rests with the court, his map proves that districts can be created that are more uniform in population than the current map (by a small, but noticeable amount), and simpler lines can be drawn to keep counties intact more often.
We initially liked the map the commission put forth, and supported the panel for their speedy efforts. In seeing the counterproposal, though, it’s hard to argue with logic.
Until such time as our political bodies seek to amend the state constitution, the “county” rule supersedes all the others.
Should Idaho’s high court agree, it raises more questions than it answers: Why was the current map adopted? Are the laws written clearly enough, and are they communicated to the panel? Should the redistricting panel have an on-board legal presence so they could have solved all of this the first time?
Until a legal opinion comes down, we wait, and hope for a speedy resolution — the clock to filing for the 2012 election is ticking, and candidates can’t get into the race without a roadmap that says where they’re running.