How did the Utah Legislature expand its GOP supermajority? Early results show it wasn’t just the voters.

Legislative boundaries drawn and approved by the Legislature last year helped Republicans maintain their dominance.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The House Chamber of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 25, 2022. Republicans are poised to expand their supermajority in the Utah Legislature following midterm elections.

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Utah Republicans look poised to expand their supermajority in the Utah House after Tuesday’s midterm elections.

This success is partially due to new political maps approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature last November at the conclusion of the state’s decennial redistricting effort.

Heading into Election Day, Republicans controlled 58 seats in the House, while Democrats held 17. With results still pending in several races, the partisan split could grow to 61-14.

And before a single vote had been tallied on Tuesday, Republicans had added one to their total as the new maps eliminated the seat held by Draper Democrat Suzanne Harrison. She was shifted into a neighboring seat represented by Republican Jeff Stenquist. Instead of a long-shot campaign against Stenquist, Harrison opted to run for Salt Lake County Council, where she currently leads incumbent Richard Snelgrove.

Republicans are also positioned to flip two Democratic-controlled seats on the west side of Salt Lake County. Quinn Kotter holds the lead over incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Weight in House District 26, 52% to 48%. Republican Anthony Loubet leads Democrat Claire Collard in Magna’s House District 27 by less than 4 percentage points, 51.87% to 48.13%.

Utah GOP Chairman Carson Jorgensen predicted Republicans would gain between three and five seats in the Legislature after the new maps were adopted last November. He now says those races are much closer than expected when the maps were first unveiled.

“The ultimate goal wasn’t to redistrict anybody out of their seat, but after the maps came out, we saw some opportunities. Those districts are actually tighter than we thought they were going to be,” Jorgensen said.

Historically, redistricting in Utah has led to Democrats losing seats in the Legislature. In previous election cycles, Democrats made incremental gains only to see them wiped out during the next redrawing of legislative boundaries.

Before the redistricting in 2011, Democrats held 16 seats in the House but lost two seats when the new maps were implemented for the 2012 election. In 2000, Democrats controlled 24 seats but lost five after redistricting.

Republicans were confident they would add another seat to their column, House District 10 in South Ogden, held by Democrat Rosemary Lesser. She is the only Democrat in the Legislature outside of Salt Lake County. She currently leads Republican Jill Koford, 53.84% to 46.16%.

“I’m surprised she (Lesser) looks like she’ll hang on, to be completely honest,” Jorgensen said. “That is a race we were really focused on.”

Two seats Democrats had hoped to flip will likely remain in Republican hands. Judy Weeks-Rohner leads Democrat Fatima Dirie, 50% to 44% in West Valley’s House District 30. In West Jordan’s House District 39, Republican Ken Ivory appears to have survived a strong challenge from Democrat Hope Goeckeritz. Ivory leads 56% to 44%.

“We always knew this would be a close race. I trust the process and look forward to seeing the final vote count,” Goeckeritz, still optimistic, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday.

The Utah Senate makeup will remain the same when the 2023 Legislature gets underway in January, with 23 Republicans and six Democrats.