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Between the Lines: A Fine Line for Idaho and Maine Redistricting

How many ways can Idaho mapmakers draw one line? At least 49 — which is the number of proposals state officials considered to revise the boundary between the state’s two Congressional seats this summer.

The task proved too difficult for Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission. It blew its Tuesday deadline to redraw the legislative and Congressional maps.

“It’s embarrassing that we still haven’t had ours done when other states with much more complicated problems started later and are already finished,” said John Foster, an Idaho-based strategist who worked for former Rep. Walt Minnick (D), said.

Congressional redistricting should be less complicated in the five states with  just two House districts — and therefore only one boundary to redraw. But two of those states, Maine and Idaho, hosted some of the most contentious redistricting battles of the summer.

Idaho’s redistricting commission deadlocked on the Tuesday deadline, prompting the secretary of state to ask the Supreme Court to give the commission more time. But representatives from both parties believe courts will draw the new map.

Despite the gridlock, there’s some consensus among the parties about what shape the two House districts should take. Foster and Greg Strimple, a national Republican pollster based in Idaho, both suggested the 1st district cede the competitive north Boise suburbs to the 2nd district.

Republicans say this makes Rep. Raul Labrador’s (R) somewhat competitive district safer.  

Meanwhile, Democrats argue that north Boise’s burgeoning population will make GOP Rep. Mike Simpson’s 2nd district competitive in the future.

So what’s the big fuss about? Leverage, according to Strimple. He said Democrats lost big in Idaho last cycle — including the 1st district seat — which means the bipartisan commission is the party’s only shot to help state legislators.

“They’re holding the Congressional side hostage to try to get a few more seats out of the process for them in the Legislature,” Strimple said.

Across the country, officials argued over two competing plans for Maine’s two districts. State lawmakers will consider both plans in a Sept. 27 special session, but Democrats and Republicans agree that courts will probably make the final call.

“It’s going to end probably before a judge at some point, one way or the other, unless the Republicans and Democrats can agree,” said Bowdoin College professor Christian Potholm. “The plans were widely divergent.”

Republicans are pushing an aggressive map that flips 360,000 people between the two districts. State Senate President Kevin Raye has his eye on challenging Rep. Mike Michaud (D) in the 2nd district, prompting Democrats to coin the cartography job as “Raye-districting.”

Democrats sponsored a plan with minimal changes, shifting only a few thousand people from the 1st district to the 2nd district.

Maine’s bipartisan commission approved this plan and sent it to the Legislature. But Maine Republicans protested and will attempt to bring up their more controversial map for a vote instead. Lawmakers must pass a map with a supermajority; otherwise, courts take over the process.

But not all of the states with two House districts are having trouble redrawing the line.  

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