Utah anti-gerrymandering proposition’s passage may mean changes for Summit County
Jeff Wright had a long fortnight.
The two-week wait for the final election tally that eventually indicated Utahns said “yes” to Proposition 4, the ballot item the Better Boundaries co-chair had worked so hard to put in front of voters, didn’t resemble an emotional roller coaster as much as a drop tower.
“It was definitely pins and needles; some days I felt sick, some days I felt elated, and I’m glad it’s over,” the Republican Parkite said. In the two weeks between the election on Nov. 6 and the release of the final results Tuesday, Prop 4’s chances seemed to oscillate sharply between success and failure as additional votes were counted. The measure, which calls for the formation of an independent redistricting commission to draw legislative and congressional electoral maps, ultimately passed by a narrow margin of 50.34 percent to 49.66 percent, or roughly 7,000 votes.
While the vote was close across much of the state, Summit County residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of the measure, with 65 percent checking the “for” column.
With an independent redistricting commission, Summit County could see a shift in its representation at the state level if there are significant changes to legislative district boundaries. Representatives of the Democratic-leaning county’s residents in the state Legislature hail variously from Heber, Duchesne, Croydon, North Ogden and Salt Lake City, while none are from Summit County. Wright said Summit County volunteers helped push the initiative over the line.
Democratic state Senate candidate Eileen Gallagher, a Parkite who lost to Duchesne Republican Ron Winterton in the midterm, wondered in an interview following the election whether the district’s boundaries, which group in Park City, Heber and the Uintah Basin, unfairly influenced the outcome or even allowed for the best candidates for each section of the constituency to be nominated.
Jill Lesh, a Parkite who coordinated pro-Prop 4 efforts in Summit County and is a local unit leader for the League of Women Voters, agreed. She said that, while redistricting won’t take place until after the 2020 presidential election, she’s hopeful for more competitive races on the state level in the future.
On the congressional level, Summit County may not see much of a shift as Utah’s population, which is heavily concentrated in the Wasatch Front and sparse in most other places, only allots it four districts at present.
The bipartisan commission will be made up of seven individuals appointed by legislative leaders and the governor. The qualifications for commissioners stipulate, among other things, that they cannot have worked as lobbyists or run for public office during the preceding four years, which Wright, a former staffer for Jon Huntsman Jr., said he’s confident won’t prove too narrow of a filter to produce an informed consensus. The group will convene after the 2020 Census is taken and use the data gathered.
While gerrymandering in Utah may not happen for the same reasons or as egregiously as redistricting in other states, Wright said Prop 4 was taken as much as a preventative measure as it was to fix existing issues.
“I don’t know what a commission is going to do, I don’t know what the Census data will say, but whatever happens … my only prediction is that it’ll be more representative of the voters of Utah,” Wright said.
A critic of a Park City workforce or otherwise affordable housing project in Old Town said he is considering an appeal of the Park City Planning Commission’s approval of the development.