The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission has done what it is supposed to do. It has produced maps of Utah’s congressional and legislative districts that are unassailable by any objective analysis.
And they would do nothing to reverse Republican dominance in the state.
But that won’t be enough for the Utah Legislature. In what we will call a constitutionally-protected conflict of interest that comes around once every 10 years, the people who have the most to gain from the new boundaries will be the ones choosing them.
Unless there is a public uproar - which is where you come in - they will be tossing aside the independent commission’s open and transparent work in favor of the secret maps they’ve been circulating among themselves.
Most legislators have never received more than 20,000 votes in any race, and barely any of them could win a statewide election. But they still appear determined to discard the intent of 512,218 Utahns who voted in 2018 to hand this job to an independent, politically-neutral body.
But conflict of interest is not the most important reason for choosing from the commission’s options. It is because those options are the best we can get.
We’ve arrived at a point where software analysis can effectively score a map on its fairness, exposing the biases whether they’re drawn by Republicans or Democrats.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project scores eight of the nine commission maps as “A” level, meaning they are at the top level for partisan fairness. The ninth map was a “B.”
How do the maps produced by the legislators score? We’ll find out about the same time they get voted on, and it’s guaranteed the scores will be lower.
The redistricting process has been compressed by pandemic-delayed U.S. Census numbers, but the independent commission, using the same numbers as legislators, managed to get its maps in front of the public weeks ago. And they continued to refine them based on advice of Utahns across the state.
To be clear, the Democrats in the Legislature are playing along with the secret game. Democrats were major proponents of independent redistricting. But now that they have it, few are standing up for it. They’re in the backrooms with the Republicans trying to save their own skins.
It’s a sad state for such a crucial moment. In 10 years, when St. George is hitting 100 degrees in March, we’ll still be living with these boundaries, and with many of the same legislators who bulletproofed their districts to protect their own interests.
Those who want legitimacy in their political boundaries have one last shot before next week’s Special Session.
Call your legislators and tell them you want the real maps vetted by the public. Here’s where you can find their numbers: https://le.utah.gov/.
Better yet, show up at the Utah State Capitol Monday at 3 p.m. for the public hearing, and tell them in person which maps you prefer.