“Greater Idaho”: All About the Oregon-Idaho Border

Seven counties in rural eastern Oregon have now voted in nonbinding, county-level initiatives to leave Oregon and join the state of Idaho. According to proponents of the “Greater Idaho Movement,” conservative-heavy rural Oregon has more in common with their neighbors in Idaho than with the greater numbers of liberal voters in the state’s coastal cities who tend to dominate state politics, including the state’s electoral college votes. The Greater Idaho Movement is aiming to have 18 Oregon counties, stretching from the current border with Idaho out to the Pacific, eventually join their eastern neighbor. 

The Hurdles: Political and Logistical

Although proponents of the border change remain optimistic for its success, most experts agree that the change is very unlikely. This is due to a multitude of reasons. First off, both state legislatures would have to sign off, and no state wants to lose tax revenue, population (which sometimes determines how much federal aid a state receives), or electoral votes. Secondly, our national Congress would have to sign off on any border change, and the Democrat-led Congress has no good reason to approve anything that would create more Republican electoral votes. This is because electoral votes are apportioned based on population, and all of a state’s votes go to the candidate that wins a majority of votes in that state. Idaho, which tends to vote red, would gain more votes, and Oregon, which votes blue as a whole, would lose that amount of votes. These electoral votes are crucial during Presidential elections, when the first candidate to reach 270 wins. As close elections like 2020 and 2016 have shown, amassing enough electoral votes to win the presidency is a tricky balancing act, and any change to the electoral college can have dramatic ripple effects. 

There are also more everyday concerns. Revenue streams would change for both states, taxes would change for individuals, Idaho may or may not subsidize the rural programs that Oregon does, or handle state property such as prisons the same way, and even small details such as recreational marijuana use would become illegal again for the new Idahoians per current Idaho state law. (Note, though, that many of those who push for the Greater Idaho Movement are also outspoken supporters of minimal governments, meaning that they understand and are usually just fine with changes like loss of subsidies.)

Due to the massive political, logistical, and bureaucratic difficulties in changing state borders, it is a very rare occurrence. Occasionally challenges or changes are made when rivers change course or coastlines change, but the last major concession of one state to another that Congress signed off on was the creation of West Virginia in 1863, during the Civil War.

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