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County Council wants independent redistricting panel

Dividing Summit County into two legislative and senatorial districts weakened its voice in state politics, prominent Park City Democrats claim.

The Summit County Council expects to approve a resolution Wednesday which encourages the state Legislature to establish a nonpartisan panel to oversee political redistricting following the 2010 census.

"We’d like very much to be one legislative district," Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott said.

The population of Summit County, which often votes for Democrats, is about 40,000, and legislative districts in Utah usually have at least 30,000 residents.

Democrats were furious when the Legislature decided about a decade ago to split Summit County between two districts in the House. They argued that Republicans redrew the map to benefit their own candidates.

The local House district was sliced into two, sending some people who live on the West Side into District 25 in the Salt Lake valley, and putting the rest into District 53, which includes rural areas of Rich, Morgan, Wasatch and Daggett counties.

Many Democrats wished that the Republican-dominated Legislature formed a district that followed Summit County’s boundaries.

"Summit County is probably one of the most gerrymandered counties in the entire U.S.," Glenn Wright, a spokesman for the Summit County Democratic Party, told the Summit County Council in January.

But whether an independent commission is formed to redistrict the state when the 2010 census is complete "is a pretty iffy situation," Wright said.

"With our extremely gerrymandered state, we essentially have a one-party state," Wright said.

According to a resolution the County Council expects to approve this week, "voter turnout has declined in Summit County over the past two election cycles, in part due to the apathy county voters feel over their limited influence with their elected legislators."

But Park City Republican Bruce Hough said, "there are other states that are far more politically gerrymandered than Utah, I can assure you of that."

"I’ve seen some pretty gerrymandered districts in states all over this country, and there is nothing unique about Utah’s redistricting," Hough said in a telephone interview. "It’s all based on one man, one vote, and that means that you have to make sure that your boundaries are equal in population, and that doesn’t always follow easily the street that you live on or the county you live in."

Reforming Utah’s redistricting process won’t likely be a priority for state lawmakers this year who are struggling to balance state budgets for 2010, he said.

"As a realistic matter, I don’t think that this is the legislative session that is going to solve that," Hough said. "We’ve got a lot of other things on the agenda."


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