Record editorial: Redistricting begins, but not with the process Utah voters approved
Utahns who oppose gerrymandering were encouraged in the fall of 2018 when voters approved Proposition 4 — commonly known as the Better Boundaries initiative — to create an independent commission to draw the state’s congressional and legislative maps.
Then state lawmakers got involved.
Much the same as they meddled with the other ballot measures passed that year, lawmakers spurned voters and replaced Prop 4 with their own, watered-down legislation. And now, as the state’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process begins this spring, it will be governed by that law instead of the one Utahns supported at the polls.
That’s a crying shame for voters all over Utah, but especially in Summit County, which is home to some of the most gerrymandered legislative districts in the state and where calls for a fairer redistricting process have long been a common refrain. Voters here, fed up with the status quo, supported Prop 4 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Alas, rather than getting the process we voted for and the assurances of fairness and transparency baked into Prop 4, we’ll have to settle for the option preferred by lawmakers seeking to retain more power over redistricting.
In fairness, what the Legislature came up with is better than the previous system, where lawmakers were given carte blanche to draw the maps however they wished with little oversight. Like Prop 4, the new law empowers an independent commission to propose maps, then submit them to the Legislature for approval — as is required by the Utah Constitution — ostensibly putting a buffer between lawmakers and the process.
But the law lacks several crucial elements that gave the voter-approved plan teeth, such as a provision that required lawmakers to be transparent about their reasoning if they reject the proposed maps and a requirement preventing the commission from utilizing partisan political data to the benefit of a candidate or party as it draws the lines.
The end result means that, while the boundaries are likely to be more fair than what we’re used to in Utah, that’s certainly no guarantee. And should lawmakers decide to throw out whatever the commission comes up with and pursue their own solution — sort of like they did when they scrapped Prop 4 — they would face few, if any, consequences.
Utah voters deserved better. So did the residents of Summit County who have spent the last decade split among two Senate districts and three House districts, a setup that has essentially stripped one of Utah’s Democratic strongholds from wielding electoral power.
Perhaps that inequity will be resolved during this round of redistricting after all. But there’s less reason to have confidence in that outcome than there would have been if lawmakers had respected voters and left Prop 4 alone.
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