As a result of the 2018 ballot initiative Proposition 4 to address gerrymandering in the state, the 2021 Independent Redistricting Commission was announced on Monday.
Lyle Hillyard, a former state senator from Cache County, was included in the seven-person list after being nominated by Senate President J. Stuart Adams, according to a press release sent Monday.
“No matter how we do it, there’s going to be criticism,” he told The Herald Journal.
While the independent commission was formed after Prop 4 passed — 50.3% in favor and 49.7% against statewide — a legislative committee comprised of 20 representatives from the House and Senate will also be examining redistricting as the state’s constitution mandates that boundaries should be examined once every 10 years.
Count people, not party
Hillyard said one of the issues with the ballot initiative was that the independent and traditional committee would share a staff and legal team, “where they would have to work for two different bosses.”
In Cache County, only 45% of voters in the 2018 election were in favor of the proposition, with about 55% opposed.
“A person who had done this a lot told me an interesting point that I’ve never forgotten,” Hillyard said. “‘Doing the first couple of districts is really easy. It’s really hard when you get to the end.’”
Because state code mandates that representatives are determined in districts to align with “one vote for one person” in the area, a simple grid system or following county boundaries wouldn’t work as populations aren’t consistent across county lines.
“The problem Cache County has is we’re not large enough unless we want to isolate ourselves completely,” Hillyard said.
“And if we did, then we’re really not fair to people in Rich County, as Rich County would then end up with a senator from Park City or Vernal or somewhere like representing them.”
Hillyard said in his 40 years as a lawmaker (the last 36 as the senator for District 25, over Cache and Rich counties), he saw four legislative redistricting initiatives. Though he testified before the committee addressing the changes, he never felt he had the time to devote to the issue — until now, when he’s not juggling other legislative duties.
“I hope we’re counting people rather than ‘this person is a white Democrat, this is a Black Libertarian,’ or whatever they may be,” Hillyard said. “I hope we can do it more on the general kind of things to figure out because not all white Mormons vote the same; not all Hispanics vote the same. (Everyone votes) really quite differently.”
The independent commission will develop three maps of district suggestions, one each to address boundary changes to Congress, state school board and state legislature.
The commission will present the redistricting recommendations to the state Legislative Redistricting Committee before lawmakers give the final say on the new boundaries.
At the moment, both commission and committee are on hold as far as map layouts, because they rely on the most recent census data — results of which have been delayed due to the pandemic.
“They’re telling us (it) probably won’t be available before July 31, and, more likely, sometime in late August,” said District 17’s Sen. Scott Sandall, of Tremonton, who will co-chair the legislative committee.
Though the census data for cities and towns won’t be released until later in the summer, Sandall said the committee will begin going to town halls and communities to hear what their thoughts are on redistricting prior to the mapping stage.
Like Sandall, Hillyard said public input will be crucial for successful redistricting, and local input may be chosen as an example for the state, such as the 2011 Redistricting Committee’s adoption of Logan-native Robert Horning’s map for school board districts.
In a separate press release, Gov. Spencer Cox announced his appointment to the commission’s chair: Rex Facer II, an associate professor at Brigham Young University.
Facer and Hillyard will be joined on the independent version of the decennial legislators by House Speaker Brad Wilson’s nomination — former-Congressman Rob Bishop — and N. Jeffrey Baker as the majority leader’s joint appointment.
“Redistricting is a once in a decade process and an integral part of our representative democracy,” Speaker Wilson stated in a press release announcing the appointments. “Utah has grown and changed over the last ten years and this process allows us to make necessary adjustments to reflect that change. This will be no easy task, especially because the pandemic has compressed the timeline.”
On the minority side of legislators, Rep. Brian King selected Pat Jones, the former senate minority leader, and Sen. Karen Mayne selected Christine Durham, a former judge who served on Utah’s Supreme Court until 2017. King and Mayne jointly appointed Judge William A. Thorne, Jr., who served as a tribal court judge as well as a previous appointment to the Utah Court of Appeals until his 2013 retirement.
Though already off to a delayed start because of COVID-19, Sandall said he expects lawmakers to come to a conclusion on how boundaries are drawn by the end of the year to prevent interference with elections, as signature gathering will begin in January.