Redistricting is underway in Utah, and it affects every person in our state.
Redistricting is the constitutionally mandated process that occurs every 10 years, by which each state uses U.S. Census data to redraw or change its voting boundaries. For the next decade, these boundaries will establish Utah’s four congressional districts, state House and Senate districts and school board districts. In short, redistricting determines who represents us.
Historically, the Utah Legislature has drawn these boundaries with the approval of the governor. Unsurprisingly, our legislators have often drawn the boundaries in ways that have benefited themselves. This is commonly known as “gerrymandering” – it virtually reassures re-election of incumbents, and it emboldens our legislators to prioritize their own agendas over those of their constituents.
A basic principle of a sound democracy is that voters should pick their legislators; legislators should not pick their voters. As Ronald Reagan rightly declared, gerrymandering is a “national disgrace.”
In 2018, Utah voters approved Proposition 4, which created a bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission and established fair and balanced standards for drawing voting boundaries. Upset by Prop 4′s passage, lawmakers threatened to pass legislation that would obstruct its purpose and reinforce themselves as the sole participants in the redistricting process.
After extensive negotiation, legislative leadership collaborated with community leaders to pass a compromise law that kept in place the Independent Commission and many of the map-drawing standards of the original law. However, in the end the Legislature protected its authority to make final determinations — including drawing districts intended to dilute the votes of some Utahns and expand the votes of others — without “interference” by Utah voters.
This is the first redistricting year with the new law on the books. Legislative leaders, in conjunction with Gov. Spencer Cox, have taken a fair approach in staffing the inaugural Independent Commission. The selections of former U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, former state Sen. Lyle Hillyard and former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham, bring tremendous talent, perspective and experience to the commission, and credibility to the process.
The commission is currently engaged in the necessary work of soliciting input from everyday Utahns, preparing and sharing sample maps (including those created by voters) and holding open meetings throughout the state, to engage citizens and ensure transparency in the process. Soon the commission will make its recommendations to our Legislature, and legislators will select the maps which will comprise voting districts in Utah for the next 10 years.
The Legislature may accept or reject the Independent Commission’s recommendations, with or without explanation. Our elected officials will make the ultimate determination as to what Utah’s new voting districts will look like and, to a large degree, what the outcomes of elections in Utah will be for the next decade.
Utahns have made clear they want fair districts, and that they want the Independent Commission to do the necessary work to prepare fair and balanced maps. The commission has spent considerable time and resources consulting with experts, studying Utah’s changing demographics, and drafting maps that are not skewed in favor of incumbents or any particular party. The Independent Commission’s maps will allow voters to pick their legislators – not the other way around.
The drawing of political boundaries will have a significant impact on all Utahns. Everyone in our state should be paying close attention to both process and results. Will our legislators listen to the people and adopt the Independent Commission’s recommendations, or will they reject those recommendations to protect their own self-interests? When the Commission submits its final maps, we urge our legislators to demonstrate that all Utahns’ voices matter by adopting them.
Scott Young and Jonathan Ruga are the co-founders and executive team of Sentry Financial Corporation. Both live in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Fred Voros is a retired judge of the Utah Court of Appeals and lives in Salt Lake City.
David Irvine is an attorney and former Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives. He lives in Bountiful.