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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.  

In Rhode Island, freshman Rep. David Cicilline’s (D) district will have to pick up some population from Rep. James Langevin’s (D) district, most likely in the Providence area, state insiders said. Hawaii’s 1st district must shed only a few hundred people to the 2nd district to even up the population distribution.

New Hampshire has two of the most competitive House districts of any of the aforementioned states. But ironically, the Granite State will probably have one of the least contentious redistricting sessions in the country.

Both GOP-held districts grew at an almost equal pace. If mapmakers switched around any of the territory, the Republican in the other district would suffer.

“If we did nothing to the two districts, we’d be fine,” said Greg Moore, the policy director for New Hampshire’s state House Republicans. “Anything that might help one district would theoretically hurt the other one.”

N.C. Seeks Preclearance; Georgia Governor Signs New Map

The North Carolina Legislature simultaneously submitted its Congressional redistricting law to the Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“What that practically means is that they get two bites at that apple,” Rep. Brad Miller (D) told Roll Call. “If they can persuade the Justice Department to preclear it, that would be the end of it. But if the Justice Department doesn’t, at that point they would pursue their claim in court.”

The 1965 Voting Rights Act requires certain jurisdictions to submit changes to voting boundaries for “preclearance” to either the DOJ or the court.

The North Carolina Congressional map that was passed into law substantially undermined favorable political contours of a number of Democratic-held districts, including Miller’s.

Meanwhile, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a recently passed Congressional redistricting map into law Wednesday. “The Legislature has drawn districts that are compact, that keep communities of interest together and that visually make sense,” Deal said in a statement.

The new lines draw Rep. John Barrow (D) out of his district, strengthen the districts of Reps. Austin Scott (R) and Sanford Bishop (D), and add a heavily Republican district in the northeastern part of the state. Georgia was allotted a 14th district during reapportionment.

Deal’s office and a spokeswoman for the state attorney general said no decision had been reached on the path for preclearance.

New Mexico State Lawmakers Begin Redistricting Session

The New Mexico Legislature opened a special session this week to deal primarily with Congressional and state legislative redistricting.

Control of the redistricting process is split, with Democratic majorities in both chambers and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez able to veto their plans. Unless the two sides can agree, the redistricting process could head to the courts, as has happened for at least the past three decades.

Scott Forrester, executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party, said legislative Democrats will push for fair and equal Congressional districts, but there is pessimism that anything that comes out of the Democratic-controlled Legislature will be vetoed.

Possibly slowing the process is Martinez’s push for the Legislature to use the special session to consider other proposals, including a bill to prevent illegal immigrants from being issued driver’s licenses.

At the center of the redistricting fight is the swing Albuquerque-based 1st district, currently represented by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), who’s running for Senate. Republican Heather Wilson, who is also running for Senate, preceded Heinrich in the seat. Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s (D) 3rd district is currently Democratic-leaning, and Rep. Steve Pearce’s (R) 2nd district is GOP-leaning.

Send news items on redistricting to Between the Lines here.

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