Editorial: Park City must step up — and fast — to support Better Boundaries’ push against gerrymandering
The majority of voters agree that gerrymandering is antithetical to democracy. Now, a Utah group is trying to do something about it — and it needs the help of Parkites.
Better Boundaries, which has garnered bipartisan support, is proposing a ballot initiative this fall that, if approved by voters, would establish an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 census.
Currently, the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature controls the redistricting process, giving incumbent lawmakers the power to craft advantageous districts that minimize the voting power of Democratic residents.
Summit County is a prime example. The West Side population base is overwhelmingly left leaning, as evidenced by 24 of the area’s 28 precincts pulling the lever for a straight Democratic ticket in the 2016 election. And Summit County overall has favored the Democratic presidential candidate in two of the last three elections, including by a whopping 15 points in 2016, while Democrats occupy all five seats on the County Council.
Despite the Park City area being a stronghold for Democrats in Utah, the legislative boundaries have made it nearly impossible for the party to be competitive in local Statehouse races. Four of Summit County’s state legislators are Republican, none of whom live here. They instead hail from Heber, Vernal, Croydon and Ogden. Rep. Brian King of Salt Lake City is the only Democrat, and his district covers just Summit Park and a sliver of Pinebrook.
That disconnect led some to urge the Legislature to make Summit County its own House district during the last redistricting effort in 2011. The county’s population of roughly 36,000 residents at the time was in line with the typical size of a House district, but lawmakers instead chose to slice and dice the county into multiple districts.
Though gerrymandering in Utah is not nearly as egregious as in states where courts have found legislative maps unconstitutional, the appointment of an independent commission like the one Better Boundaries suggests could mean a more sensible map for Summit County in the next round of redistricting. At the least, it would assure voters here that districts are not being drawn with the purpose of stifling their voice.
Statewide, there would be a greater number of competitive races, and legislators would be held more accountable for representing all their constituents.
For residents to get a chance to vote for the Better Boundaries initiative this fall, though, Parkites need to show their support now. Organizers have gathered more than the 113,000 statewide signatures needed by April 15 for the measure to appear on November’s ballot — but not enough of them are from people in Senate District 26, which covers Park City and a large chunk of Summit County, to meet a requirement that a certain number of signatures comes from each area of the state in accordance with the population.
According to the organization, Better Boundaries needs about 2,000 more signatures from District 26. A signature-gathering event to help close the gap is scheduled for Saturday, March 31, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Park City Library.
Summit County’s legislative map exemplifies the need for Utah’s redistricting process to be revamped. Residents on both sides of the aisle should step up to ensure voters have an opportunity this fall to make it so.
After Saturday, Better Boundaries staff members will continue to canvass Senate District 26 in advance of the April 15 deadline, while residents may also visit the organization’s Salt Lake City office at 1435 S. State St. between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. to provide signatures.
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