Group sets hearings for ballot initiative aimed at curbing ‘gerrymandering’ of political districts

Public meetings required before the group can start collecting 113,143 signatures needed to trigger public vote on changing how political boundaries are redrawn.<br>

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Better Boundaries ballot initiative co-chairmen Jeff Wright and Ralph Becker discuss plans. The group is holding seven public hearings this week. Former SLC Mayor Ralph Becker, right, and Jeff Wright talk about the formal launch of the Better Boundaries initiative, which will ask voters to create an independent commission to redraw political districts . The pair spoke from the Cicero Group offices in Salt Lake City Thursday July 20, 2017.

The Better Boundaries ballot initiative has scheduled seven public hearings this week to discuss its proposal to form an independent commission to handle once-every-decade redrawing of congressional and legislative district boundaries.

The meetings are part of the process required by the state before it will give that group the green light to start collecting the required 113,143 signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot.

“We are pleased to continue taking the steps necessary to get this important initiative before the voters in 2018,” wrote the co-chairmen of the group, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Jeff Wright, a former GOP candidate for Congress.

Meetings scheduled include:

• St. George: Friday at 9 a.m., Washington County Commission Building, 197 E. Tabernacle Street.

• Price: Friday at 10 a.m., Price City Hall, 185 E. Main.

• Ephraim: Friday at 4 p.m., Ephraim City Council Chambers, 5 S. Main.

• Vernal: Friday at 4 p.m., Uintah County Library, 204 E. 100 North.

• Logan: Saturday at 5 p.m., Hampton Inn, 1665 N. Main.

• Heber City: Saturday at 9:30 a.m., Wasatch County Library, 465 E. 1200 South.

• Riverton: Saturday at noon, Riverton Library, 12877 S. 1830 West.

The ballot initiative comes in the wake of allegations that the GOP-controlled Legislature gerrymandered districts to give Republicans unfair advantages in congressional and legislative races.

For example, in the last redistricting following the 2010 Census, then-Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat, accused legislators of splitting up his old congressional district four ways, making re-election impossible in the district where he lived. He ran instead in an adjacent district that included more sections of his old district.

Matheson barely won re-election — by 768 votes — over challenger Mia Love in 2012. Two years later, he chose not to seek re-election and Love won the seat.

An analysis this year by The Associated Press said Utah redrew its legislative districts in a way to give the GOP extra help. It said Republicans won an average of 64 percent of the votes in each district, but it won 83 percent of the seats — and likely netted three seats more than they would have if districts were drawn more objectively.

A Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll last month showed that Utahns favor having an independent commission redraw political boundaries by a 61-22 percent margin.