Catherine G. Weller: What Utah voters do now can affect our democracy for the next decade

The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission is seeking public input on new legislative and congressional districts.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper and Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, center, pose with concerned Utah voters Teresa Carlson, left, Marilyn Bown and Helen Moser who are concerned about possible partisan gerrymandering of the redrawing of redistricting lines. Riebe was joined by Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City and to emphasize the importance of the will of the voters in drawing new lines in the redistricting process, Aug. 19, 2021 at the Millcreek Library.

What if I were to tell you some of the most consequential civic actions you could take are needed right now? What if I were to tell you that we Utahns have a historic opportunity that will affect our representative democracy for the next decade?

Every 10 years, political boundaries in the United States are redrawn at all levels, from districts for representation in the U.S. House and Senate to the lines for local school boards. Populations change. People are born and die, they move and their circumstances change. These changes are illuminated by the constitutionally mandated census. Redistricting follows the census to ensure political boundaries reflect our state as it is — not as it was 10 years ago — and that we are represented fairly.

There’s a saying, “Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.” When elected officials are allowed to determine the very venues in which they compete for votes — their political districts — they are allowed to make one of the most important rules of the competition: who gets to vote for them.

This can lead to gerrymandering, establishing political boundaries to benefit those currently in office, not the people they should represent. It results in safe districts for which officials don’t have to meaningfully compete for votes and frustrated citizens who feel their voices are not heard.

In 2018 the citizens of Utah voted to establish an Utah Independent Redistricting Commission (UIRC). While the commission’s structure and authority as described in what was Proposition 4 were later altered by the Utah Legislature, its mandate remains clear. That is to solicit information from the people of the state of Utah, draw maps based upon input from the people to best balance their interests and needs while meeting legal and constitutional requirements, and to submit those maps to the Legislature for consideration.

That sounds like a tall order, and it is. The members of the UIRC are up to the task. The seven commissioners bring a wealth of experience, intelligence and enormous dedication to the project. But they cannot do their jobs in isolation. They need help from their fellow Utahns, help from people like you.

Since August, the commission has been meeting with people throughout the state and soliciting input via its website. If you missed the meeting held in your part of the state, you can still tell them what a fair political map looks like to you.

Perhaps you live in a district that includes another city or neighborhood with which your neighborhood has little in common. Perhaps you live in rural Utah and you’re tired of your voice being diluted by those of us on the Wasatch Front. Maybe you’re tired of “safe” districts that don’t require politicians to compete for your vote to get elected or hear your feedback once they are elected.

Or perhaps you like things just the way they are. That’s all feedback the UIRC needs to hear.

Check out their website at https://UIRC.UTAH.GOV and send your comments to UIRCCOMMENTS@utah.gov.

Catherine Weller

Catherine G. Weller, Salt Lake City, is co-president of the League of Women Voters of Utah.