Princeton Gerrymandering Project says Legislative Redistricting maps ‘violate the traditional principles of keeping counties whole’

Voting groups and Democrats have accused the lawmakers gerrymandering and ignoring public opinion.

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

Proposed redistricting maps from Utah lawmakers are splitting up communities in favor of gerrymandering, argued lobbyists and Democrats ahead of the first and only Legislative Redistricting Committee public hearing on Monday.

Utah lawmakers released their proposed decennial redistricting maps at around 10. p.m. on Friday evening, which gave the public the weekend to analyze the maps and prepare for Monday’s public hearing scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Capitol.

Utah Independent Redistricting Commission (UIRC), a bipartisan group, released their own maps to the legislative redistricting committee last Monday.

The UIRC was created by 2018′s Proposition 4, which was later softened in 2020 by state lawmakers, who removed transparency and accountability language. Lawmakers are not required to use UIRC maps.

Katie Matheson, the spokesperson for Alliance for Better Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the UIRC delivered redistricting maps that ”prioritize communities, received excellent grades from the impartial Princeton Gerrymandering Project and were drawn through a nonpartisan, transparent process.”

The gerrymandering project graded the lawmakers’ Utah Senate plan an “A” and the House map a “B” overall, but the maps received an “F” and a “C” for competitiveness. Princeton added that the House map was “very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn.”

In a memo of their findings, the project wrote that Utah lawmakers’ proposed maps “violate the traditional principles of keeping counties whole where possible,” and said that is most apparent in the Legislatures four-way division of Salt Lake City, which dilutes Utah’s largest Democratic area.

“The commission’s [UIRC] maps all include one Democratic-leaning Congressional district in the Salt Lake City area, while the Legislature’s map splits Salt Lake City, rendering no Democratic seats,” the project found.

Better Boundaries executive director Katie Wright said she was extremely disappointed to see that the Legislative Redistricting Committee proposed its own maps. She said the Congressional and Legislative maps are particularly gerrymandered and would suppress voters in Utah. The commission’s maps, which were the result of public meetings across Utah, were more fair than the lawmakers’ proposals, she said.

Utah Democratic Party spokesperson Joshua Rush said that Utahns supported the commission’s maps and said that the lawmakers’ proposed maps would hurt some communities.

“At the end of the day. Utahns delivered a mandate to this independent commission to draw maps for them, and the independent commission delivered,” Rush said. “They gave us three great options, and we’d be happy to see the Legislature adopt any one of those three. We should absolutely not allow these legislators, career politicians, to pass their maps and run them through, without the robust period of public comment that was afforded to the UIRC.”

The Legislature, which has Republican supermajorities in the Utah House and Senate, has given themselves two weeks to reach an agreement on the committee’s redistricting proposals. The electoral boundaries are redrawn every 10 years at the completion of the United States’ census.

Chris Null, with the Salt Lake County Republican Party, told The Tribune that the GOP had not weighed in on the conversations of the committee in an effort to let the lawmakers decide for the voters they represent.

“I feel the Legislative Redistricting Committee has done a fantastic job of meeting the goals and they are representing the people well with the proposed maps,” Null said.