How Utah Republicans ‘weaponized’ redistricting

Expert calls new congressional map a ‘brutal gerrymander’ that locks Democrats out of power for a decade

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maps at a news conference held by the Utah’s bipartisan redistricting panel in Taylorsville on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

It’s difficult to argue the new congressional maps passed by the Utah Legislature aren’t gerrymandered. They slice up Salt Lake County into four pieces, a process known as “cracking.”

It’s not hard to understand why. Democrat Joe Biden carried Salt Lake County by just over 10 points over Republican Donald Trump.

The congressional map proposed by the independent redistricting commission would have created one competitive district out of the four, giving a Democrat a reasonable chance of winning. Instead, lawmakers ignored those maps in favor of their own, which overwhelmingly favored Republicans.

Now, we’re starting to get an idea of just how favorable the new congressional maps are for the GOP.

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report described the maps as a “brutal 4R-0D gerrymander” that would “likely shut Democrats out of federal office for at least ten years.”

How much has the partisan advantage shifted?

CD1, currently held by Rep. Blake Moore, got less Republican, but that won’t be much of a problem. Under the old map, the district was rated R+20. Now Wasserman estimates it at R+12. CD1 was Trump +32 in 2020 and is now Trump +19.

Rep. Chris Stewart’s CD2 moves from R+10 to R+11. Trump carried the district by 15 points. The new map is Trump +17.

The 3rd District was R+17, but the new boundaries make it R+14 for incumbent Rep. John Curtis. CD3 was Trump +25 in 2020. Now it’s Trump +19.

The most significant shift was in CD4, which went from the least to the most Republican in Utah. Freshman Rep. Burgess Owens squeaked past Democrat Ben McAdams by a little more than 3,700 votes. His seat got a lot more Republican, moving from R+6 to R+16. Trump won the seat by 9 points in 2020. Now CD4 is Trump +25.

“Utah is exhibit A of how one-party states can use redistricting as a weapon to bludgeon the minority party,” Wasserman writes.