Mapping tool is live: How you can redraw Utah’s political boundaries

Residents can submit maps for lawmakers to consider during redistricting process

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Legislators get instructions on how to use the mapping software for redistricting during a tutorial, on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Utah lawmakers are inviting the public to put their cartography skills to good use, and create maps for the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Utah legislators proudly pointed out Thursday the state was the first to involve the public in the redrawing of political boundaries during the 2011 redistricting cycle. The online mapping tool for the 2021 edition went live Thursday morning. It’s the same software lawmakers will use for setting political boundaries for the next decade.

Individuals can submit proposals for Utah’s four congressional districts, 29 state Senate seats, 75 state House seats, and the state Board of Education.

Proposals must meet the same criteria lawmakers have adopted for their own process. Districts must be contiguous and as compact as possible. The population of the four congressional districts cannot vary by more than 0.1%. There’s a little more leeway in the population numbers for state legislative and school board districts, with a maximum variation of plus or minus 5%. The online mapping software won’t accept map proposals that stray from those guidelines.

Maps must also be complete. Users can’t submit a map with just one or a few districts drawn.

In 2011, the public submitted approximately 300 map proposals. Lawmakers expect many more submissions this year, especially given the tremendous growth of the internet since then.

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton and co-chair of the Legislative Redistricting Committee, says the committee will give consideration to every map that comes from the public.

“I’d encourage anyone that draws a map to attend one of our public meetings so we can ask and answer questions about that map. That’s the best vetting process we have,” Sandall said. “I will make sure anyone who’s submitted a map and comes to a public meeting will have a chance to at least put it up on the board. We might not be able to spend a lot of time asking and answering questions, but we’ll at least know that’s your map.”

The committee begins its public hearing schedule next Wednesday with a 6 p.m. meeting in Grantsville.

Drawing new political maps is not easy. Sandall says he practiced with the software to help work out any bugs before it went live, and it took him about 30 hours to finish a set of maps.

“If you try to incorporate the guidelines and meet a 2% population deviation, you might be able to create that map in an hour and a half,” Sandall said. “But is that a significant map? Has it taken into consideration what people in Garfield County might want or what people in Cache County think is important?”

Maps submitted from the public might be more vital than you think. Sandall says the 2011 final map for state school board was mostly from a publicly submitted proposal, with a few tweaks here and there.