Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, says his move to narrow the size of voting districts is not aimed at boosting Democrats' chances but to make county commissioners more sensitive to regional differences.
"It's to get people in those zones to have the ability to get true representation," Durst said Wednesday, after the Senate State Affairs Committee voted to print his bill.
Durst acknowledged that the powerful Idaho Association of Counties has told him they will oppose the measure. "They represent county commissioners, so I wouldn't expect them to support it. This isn't about what's best for the county commissioners, it's about what's best for the voter."
Under current law, county commissioners in Idaho's 44 counties have a residency requirement that ensures the three commissions come from separate geographical districts, with lines redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts and adhere to the U.S. Constitution's one-person, one-vote requirement.
But commissioners are elected by a county-wide vote. Durst wants to change that beginning in 2014, with vote totals in the candidates' respective districts determining the outcome.
Ada County has relative partisan balance in the Legislature, with the GOP controlling all three spots in Districts 14, 15, 20, 21 and 21, mostly outside the city of Boise. Democrats control the Boise districts, 16, 17, 18 and 19.
But all three county commissioners are Republican.
Durst said voting by district wouldn't have changed the makeup of the current Ada commission. "If they'd been elected by zone, the Republicans would still have been elected," Durst said. "That's important because I don't want people to think this is about Ada County being shifted."
Added Durst: "I think Democrats will lose some places where we have been strong. My friends from Latah County don't like this because they like that Moscow decides the outcome."
The current Ada County commissioner districts are:
District 1, covering the North and East ends of Boise, the Foothills and Central Bench.
District 2, Northwest Ada County, including Eagle, Star and north Meridian.
District 3, South Ada County, including Kuna, south Meridian and part of Southeast Boise.