A voter initiative focused around redrawing Utah’s legislative and congressional districts in a way that is fair and nonpartisan may be headed to the Nov. 6 ballot after organizers say it received enough public support on petitions.
Utahns for Responsible Government, the group backing the Better Boundaries initiative, announced Wednesday it had submitted more than 150,000 county clerk-approved petition signatures before the May 15 deadline. State law requires 113,143 signatures of registered voters scattered around the state to qualify.
In a statement, Utahns for a Responsible Government said the initiative “would create a nonpartisan commission of experts, appointed jointly by the governor and Legislature to draw legislative and congressional maps after the 2020 census.” Those maps would then go before the state Legislature for an up-or-down vote.
The push to reform the once-a-decade redrawing of districts came after allegations that gerrymandering had given Utah Republicans unfair advantages in previous elections. In 2011, the last time congressional districts were redrawn, then-Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, accused state lawmakers of splitting up his district in a way that made it more difficult for him to be re-elected.
But this ballot initiative is not about helping more Democrats get in office, sponsors said.
The leaders of Better Boundaries include two Republicans, Jeff Wright of Actium Partners and Blake Moore of Cicero Group, and two Democrats, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and former Rep. Karen Shepherd. Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle, an independent, has also voiced support for a new redistricting process, according to Wednesday’s statement.
Wright described the measure as a bipartisan effort to make congressional and legislative races more fair, more competitive and less polarized, as well as to restore Utahns’ faith in democracy. “I think this is just about a better process,” Wright said.
While other recent voter initiatives have received notable backlash and opposition, including a medical marijuana measure and the Count My Vote push to increase participation in Utah elections, Wright said no one has yet tried to block Better Boundaries from reaching November’s ballot — something he considers a positive sign. “We’re feeling very good,” Wright said.
A January poll from The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics found that a slight majority of the poll’s 803 respondents, 51 percent, said they would support a proposed ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission to recommend new political boundaries. Twenty-four percent said they would oppose such a measure, and another quarter said they didn’t know how they felt.
Along party lines, Utah Democrats are far more favorable to independent redistricting, the poll shows. Seventy-one percent of respondents who identified as Democrats said they would support such an initiative, compared with 44 percent of Republicans. Only 6 percent of Democrats said they would be opposed, while 28 percent of Republicans gave a thumbs-down.