Joanne Slotnik: Every kid knows what fairness is, and this redistricting is not fair

The public outcry means legislators may be putting their political futures in peril.

Give your kids unequal amounts of dessert, and one is sure to cry out, “That’s not fair!” We all learn what fairness is at a very young age. The Legislative Redistricting Committee seems to have forgotten.

I learned about a concept called procedural fairness when I served as the first executive director of Utah’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. That non-partisan volunteer commission chose procedural fairness as a key standard for evaluating judges. There was good reason for doing so. When people feel that they’ve been treated in a procedurally fair way, they are far more likely to accept decisions made by those in power – even when they don’t agree with them. Judges who receive the most positive ratings for procedural fairness are seen as fair in the processes they use, transparent in their actions, and impartial in the decisions they make. They create opportunities for “voice,” for people to be heard.

The legislative redistricting committee has been anything but procedurally fair in its rush to approve new maps for use in the next decade’s worth of elections. If procedural fairness guided the current legislative redistricting process, we would not have seen the outpouring of frustration and anger that we saw at Monday’s public hearing.

Releasing maps late on a Friday night, with all public comment due by mid-day the following Monday afternoon, just days before a final vote, is not a fair process.

Map-making in secret, out of the public eye, with no articulated criteria, is not a transparent process.

Releasing maps over a weekend, soliciting public comments for only a limited time on a website that almost immediately crashed, and holding a hearing for comments less than three days after the maps became public does not constitute a meaningful opportunity for the people to be heard.

The number of county and city splits, the cynical tearing apart of Salt Lake County into four congressional districts, and the disenfranchisement of minority voices does not demonstrate impartial decision-making.

The legislative redistricting committee has created a firestorm of opposition by callously ignoring Utah voters, an avoidable result had it simply taken seriously the work of the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission (UIRC), which fulfilled its statutory obligation in full public view, with remarkable transparency. Rather than honoring the many hours that the bipartisan volunteer commissioners contributed to the public good, the legislative redistricting committee simply dismissed their work. At Monday’s hearing, the committee failed to even acknowledge the twelve high-scoring fair maps submitted by the UIRC.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the legislative redistricting committee knew where it was headed from the outset. Committee chairs Senator Steve Sandall and Rep. Paul Ray, demonstrating a condescending father-knows-best attitude, simply ignored what they apparently considered “noise” from the public.

Contrary to the UIRC’s clear set of criteria, the committee’s primary criterion seems to be combining rural and urban areas statewide. This not only neuters the state’s population hub and capital city, but also leaves rural citizens without a voice dedicated to their unique issues. Dozens of cities are split, with particularly egregious examples in Taylorsville and Millcreek. Counties are similarly sundered, inexplicably such rural counties as Wayne, Garfield, and Kane.

Some legislators have had the temerity to argue that because Proposition 4 passed by a slim margin, the UIRC’s work shouldn’t carry much weight. Have legislators forgotten that in America, one vote over fifty percent carries the day? They can’t dismiss a state law simply because their particular jurisdiction didn’t support it. When a bill becomes a law in Utah, we all have to follow it.

Whatever the outcome of this redistricting process, one party will still dominate Utah. Utah is a conservative state, and its overall representation will reflect that fact. But the committee and the legislature need to understand that voters value the way the result is reached.

The legislative committee should honor the comprehensive, bipartisan work of the Independent Redistricting Commission. The UIRC did not expect the legislature to adopt their maps wholesale. But those maps are the most logical starting point for better and more fair maps than Utah has seen before. The legislative committee, by jumping directly to a hyper-partisan outcome, both ignores the good work of the UIRC and disrespects the voters of this state. They do so at their own peril in future elections.

Joanne Slotnik served as the executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission from 2008-2016. In her retirement, she has discovered political activism.