Rex Facer: Independent Redistricting Commission provides nonpartisan map options

The commission used these nine criteria to develop fair political boundaries for Utah.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rex Facer II at a news conference held by the Utah’s bipartisan redistricting panel in Taylorsville on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. At left is Karen Hale.

To the Residents of Utah:

On Nov. 1, the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission presented its maps and report to the Legislative Redistricting Committee. It is now up to the Legislature to choose a final map for Congress, the state Senate, state House, and state school board. The maps presented by the commission provide good options for the Legislature.

I am the chair of the commission (created as a result of Proposition 4 and refined in the legislative compromise of Senate Bill 200 in 2020). I am honored to have served you over the last nine months. The commission members have been true to their oath to follow the law and not have any conflicts of interest. Further, the commission has prepared a set of maps that use the criteria set in state law to guide its decision making. One of the most notable of those criteria was to not purposefully or unduly favor or disfavor a candidate, potential candidate, or a political party. To that end the commission specifically chose to not use political data such as voting patterns or addresses of candidates or incumbents. The commission is confident that partisan information did not guide its map drawing. The commission used a broad and robust set of criteria, outlined in state and federal law, and as a result has drawn high quality maps that accomplish its mandate. Below I highlight the nine criteria used in drawing the commission’s maps.

First, each district had to have equal population. The commission submitted three congressional maps to the Legislature, two with zero deviation across districts and one map with seven people below the target population in one district and another district with five people over. For the other three types of maps (Senate, House, and School Board), the deviations are higher than the congressional maps, but are significantly lower than the maximum deviation allowed in state law. Second, all districts are contiguous. Third, districts are relatively compact, especially given Utah’s geography. Odd shapes in districts are due to the adherence of other redistricting criteria.

Fourth, communities of interest have informed the commission’s map drawing efforts. The commission received nearly 1,000 descriptions of different communities of interests. Additionally, the commission received over 2,000 comments about specific maps – many identifying issues within specific communities. These maps have been shaped by communities all across the state. Fifth, natural and man-made geographic features, such as rivers, mountain ranges, and freeways are used as the boundaries of districts where possible.

Sixth, the commission analyzed the cores of prior districts in the maps. This data has also been used to number the districts to help voters make sense of their districts. However, because the patterns of growth have been uneven across the state, it is not possible to use the same boundaries that were used in 2010. Making changes in one district necessarily requires making changes to adjacent districts. Again, this criterion was balanced against all the other criteria and was not the singular criterion used to evaluate any given map.

Seventh, the commission sought to minimize city and county splits. Whether in urban areas or rural areas, cities and counties wanted to remain intact in their districts. For some communities, particularly in House districts, it was necessary to split some cities since the size of the districts had a target of 43,622 people in each district. If a municipality was larger than that, it by necessity would need to be split. Additionally, as many cities along the Wasatch Front share boundaries, if one city needed to be split it was common that a neighboring city would also need to be split to maintain our targets within tolerable deviations.

Eighth, the commission was tasked with boundary agreement. This criterion seeks to have boundaries that match or line up with the boundaries on other maps. This is challenging in a state with 75 house seats and 29 senate seats – those two types of districts will not nest neatly. The commission looked at our maps and tried to find boundary agreement where possible. Among other factors that effort will make our maps more usable by county election officials.

Ninth, and again most notably, the commission was prohibited from purposeful or undue favoring or disfavoring of an incumbent elected official, a candidate or prospective candidate for elected office, or a political party. To facilitate compliance with this criterion, the commission chose to not use political data in drawing maps. I can state with confidence that partisan information did not shape the commission’s maps. When evaluated by outside experts, our maps perform fairly and do not favor or disfavor a particular incumbent elected official, a candidate or prospective candidate for elected office, or a political party. The other criteria outlined above have shaped the drawing of districts. The commission did not allow partisan political information or discussions in the map drawing process.

Overall, the commission is proud of its work. The commission’s maps have been evaluated very positively using national standards. As residents of Utah, you can have confidence that your input has shaped the commission’s map drawing. The legislature now has the responsibility to choose the final set of maps.

Rex Facer is chair of Utah Independent Redistricting Commission.