By all accounts, Utah is on track to set a record for voter turnout when Election Day rolls around on Nov. 6.
County clerks statewide are reporting huge increases in the number of new voter registrations, and early voting numbers are also up.
It’s an encouraging sign in a community where voters have made a lackluster showing at the polls in recent years. In the 2014 midterm elections, for example, only 30 percent of eligible voters cast ballots — a record low, according to a report produced last year from the Utah Foundation. We did better in the 2016 presidential election, with nearly 58 percent turnout, but, overall, Utah was still ranked just 39th in voter turnout.
As Utahns, we can and should do better, but I also know that sometimes it’s hard to feel as if a single vote really matters.
As in many other states, gerrymandering — the process of manipulating political district boundaries for the benefit of candidates or parties — has left its mark on Utah. Often, a Utah Foundation report notes, a majority of our political races aren’t even competitive.
That’s why I’m supporting the bipartisan-driven Better Boundaries Initiative, also known as Proposition 4. Prop 4 would create a seven-member independent redistricting commission to draw the boundary lines for our school board, Utah House, Utah Senate and U.S. House districts.
States redraw their political district boundaries every 10 years with data from the most recent U.S. Census. Utah’s Constitution awards the responsibility of drawing those boundaries to state lawmakers, but that hasn’t always served voters well. In the 2011 round of redistricting, for example, lawmakers carved Utah up into four mixed urban-rural districts, diluting the voices of some voters. Salt Lake City, which has long had a strong Democratic presence, was broken up into three congressional districts (2, 3 and 4). And rural communities, which tend to tilt conservative but have needs far different from those of Wasatch Front cities, were left with congressional representatives who are based miles and miles away.
Under Prop 4, the Legislature would still have final say over our political boundaries, but the influence lawmakers have over the process would be more limited. As proposed, Prop 4’s rules would prohibit appointed commissioners from being lobbyists, political candidates, current office holders or anyone taking money from any political party. It also calls on the commission to strive to create boundaries that create greater population equity in districts and minimize the division of cities.
As a citizen of a republic founded on the core ideal of representative government, I don’t believe any politician — Republican or Democrat — should be in the business of choosing his or her voters. In our system of government, voters are supposed do the choosing, and we need Prop 4 to help us protect that right.
An independent commission would put the power squarely in the hands of voters and make the redistricting process more fair. I believe it will make government more transparent and allow voters to hold their elected officials more accountable for their decisions. And it may also increase voter participation at the polls.
I encourage you to join me in supporting Proposition 4.Let’s make sure that every voter’s voice is heard.
Ann Granato, a Democrat, is the District 4 representative on the Salt Lake County Council and is seeking re-election this year.