Record editorial: Prop 4 may be last chance to end gerrymandering before next round of redistricting
Gerrymandering is a problem in Utah.
That much is obvious to anyone who has looked at a map detailing Summit County’s electoral districts.
What other conclusion can be reached when the vast majority of residents in our county, one of the state’s few Democratic strongholds, are represented in the Utah House by Republicans whose biggest threat to losing reelection every two years comes from within their own party?
Such an imbalance exists because Summit County is split among three House districts even though it has a large enough population to have its own. The state Senate boundaries are also problematic, with the two senators representing Summit County hailing from other areas of the state and having little electoral reason to prioritize our interests.
In short, it’s what you get when lawmakers in a state dominated by one political party are in charge of drawing the electoral map.
Fortunately, Summit County voters have an opportunity to take a large step toward fixing the problem when they send in their ballots this fall. Proposition 4, known previously as Better Boundaries, seeks to establish a bipartisan, seven-member independent commission to instead control the redistricting process.
Members, appointed by the governor and the leadership of both political parties, would draft the state’s political map, then send it to the Legislature for approval. Importantly, lawmakers would be unable to amend the map, though they could reject it wholesale.
Critics of Prop 4 have called into doubt whether the commission would be truly impartial. Some, including U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney and Park City’s representative in the state House, Tim Quinn, both Republicans, prefer leaving the process up to lawmakers because Utahns can vote them out if they’re unsatisfied with their approach to redistricting.
That argument conveniently ignores the very problem Prop 4 is aiming to fix: Lawmakers currently have the power to mold districts in a way that limits their risk of voters ever kicking them to the curb.
Additionally, the commission would be bound by a number of rules to ensure it crafts fair boundaries, such as bans on considering partisan political data and skewing districts to tilt in favor of any candidate or party.
And there’s another requirement that should make Summit County residents, in particular, rejoice. The commission would be obligated to keep counties intact to the greatest possible extent, opening the possibility that we would at last be put into a single House district and have the power to elect one of our own to represent us on Capitol Hill.
That could happen soon if Prop 4 passes, as the next round of redistricting will occur after the 2020 census. It also means voters likely will not get another crack at redistricting reform before the electoral map is set for another decade.
Given that, they should send lawmakers a clear message: We choose you — not the other way around.
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