Ben Anderson: Utah should focus on fair maps, not political games

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lawmakers in the House Chamber during a special session at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

Right now, there’s one word that we are hearing a lot about in the news: redistricting. It’s the process by which all our state’s voting maps are drawn for the next 10 years. For the last decade, Utahns have been stuck with rural-urban split maps that have diluted the voices of those who live along the Wasatch Front by slicing and dicing their communities.

In the 2020 election, 35% of ballots cast for congressional candidates in Utah were for a Democrat, and yet all four of our state’s congressional seats are held by Republicans. That’s a result of these gerrymandered maps.

Now, it looks like the GOP super majority is getting ready to do the same thing this time around. In fact, what did the Legislative Redistricting Committee chair, Rep. Paul Ray, say to the idea that communities like Salt Lake City should not be split between multiple congressional districts? “Good luck.” That seems to be the prevailing attitude among Republican legislative leaders: good luck getting fair representation for your communities.

There seems to be a myth that somehow, splitting communities in multiple ways give people in cities more representation, not less. This is a common message touted by GOP leaders in our state who want to find a way to justify carving up communities to maximize their own party’s political advantages. They say that by splitting Salt Lake City into three districts, they are giving them three times the congressional representation, or that by splitting Ogden into six different state house districts, they are giving its citizens six times the legislative representation.

While that sounds nice, it is not how the situation plays out in reality. Putting Salt Lake City into the same district as Republican strongholds like Richfield, Cedar City and St. George means that Republican Rep. Chris Stewart can conveniently ignore his constituents from Salt Lake City because they didn’t vote for him, while constituents from other parts of the district did. Similarly, Rep. John Curtis and Rep. Burgess Owens can ignore their Salt Lake County constituents and focus on constituents in red Utah County.

Instead of being represented by three members of Congress, as Republicans would like to suggest they are, Salt Lake County residents are ignored by three members of Congress.

Despite the fact that Utah’s rural areas already receive an outsized amount of attention from the legislature and our state’s members of Congress, Republicans on the hill are still pushing the narrative that we need more rural representation. Some, like state Rep. Phil Lyman, have even supported the idea of guaranteeing at least one state house seat per county, which would give even more power to sparsely populated rural counties (not to mention that it would be blatantly unconstitutional).

These efforts to dilute and discount the voices of Utahns who live along the Wasatch Front (who make up about 80% of our state’s population) are nothing more than a means to an end for Republican politicians who want to hold on to their power, even at the expense of fair representation for all Utahns.

Lumping rural and urban areas together for political gain hurts everyone, whether you live in a small town, in downtown Salt Lake City or in a Wasatch Front suburb. For all the diverse areas of our state to be truly represented, they need to be drawn into districts that respect their communities and focus on fair maps, not political games.

If you believe that the voices of every Utahn should be fairly heard and represented in our government, then contact your lawmakers today and let them know that you believe in truly fair and equitable voting maps that don’t cut apart communities for political purposes. This is our chance to shape what our representation looks like for the next decade, and we can’t afford to let it pass us by. We must speak up for fair voting maps.

Ben Anderson

Ben Anderson is a student at Weber State University studying political science. He is also a communications intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.