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Utah lawmakers asked to fix redistricting problems

Published January 25, 2012 9:13 am

Boundaries • Several hundred Utah voters would be affected by changes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Legislators were asked Tuesday to fix about 60 problematic district boundaries that they drew late last year for the Legislature and state School Board — and are rushing bills to make changes before county clerks by law must finalize voting precincts next week.

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said many of the problems came because the Legislature used census blocks to draw new boundaries. County clerks discovered that those blocks did not always match city boundaries.

So, in some cases where lawmakers intended to include all of a city in a particular district, it actually did not.

Other problems came because with the new crisscrossing boundaries for the Legislature, school board and Congress, counties on occasion would be forced to create some new voting precincts — where everyone living there would vote in the same races — that would include only one or two homes.

"Sometimes they would be so small there is a secret ballot issue.... So few voters are in that precinct that it would be pretty clear how they voted," said John Cannon, an attorney for the Redistricting Committee. Also, Sumsion said political parties may be hesitant to award county and state convention delegates to precincts that are so small. Any delegate slots awarded there could lead to an overrepresentation problem.

So Sumsion and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the Senate chairman of the Redistricting Committee, agreed to push bills that make changes to avoid the small precincts, and follow real city boundaries where that was the original intent.

While Sumsion said most of the 60 or so changes would move fewer than 10 people each, Okerlund said some changes move up to 167 people.

Lawmakers refused any requests from counties that would affect congressional districts, Sumsion said, explaining they were drawn so that three districts have exactly equal populations, and the fourth has only one person more. He said the Legislature sought such equality to lessen the possibility of lawsuits, and it does not want to upset that balance with any changes.

The proposed changes upset some House Republicans.

House GOP Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, complained members had sought to have as little population deviation between districts as possible to avoid lawsuits, and that led to some lines he did not like — and now larger deviations are being allowed to accommodate county concerns. "Wouldn't I like to go back in time," he said.

Sumsion said he and Okerlund refused about 40 requests from county clerks that they felt were too drastic, sometimes trying to move 1,000 people or more to keep a city together in one district. He said they agreed to push only those seen mostly as technical cleanups.

Leaders hope to pass the bills and have them signed into law this week to beat a Jan. 31 deadline for counties to draw their final voting precinct boundaries.