Another 10 years has passed, meaning it is time to redraw district boundaries — and this time around there’s a way for residents to get involved.
The Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee will visit Cache Valley on Thursday to discuss redistricting maps proposed both by local representatives and the public. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 at Mt. Logan Middle School.
Because the populations in different regions grow at different rates and districts need to have as close to the same number of residents as possible, districts need to be redrawn periodically. The Utah Legislature will use data from the U.S. Census to determine the size of congressional, state Senate, state House of Representatives and state board of education districts.
The Utah State Redistricting Committee is made up of 20 members instructed to use “procedural guidelines” to “prohibit the committee from using partisan data when drawing maps to ensure the Utah redistricting process is fair and equitable,” according to a media release from the committee about the public hearings. The members are elected representatives from districts all over Utah.
Members of this committee were selected by the Utah State speaker of the House and the president of the Utah State Senate. After new redistricting amendments passed last year, first an Independent Redistricting Commission gathers input and draws up recommendations. The Legislative Redistricting Committee then considers those recommendations, along with public input from its own efforts, and presents boundaries to the full Legislature. The Legislature will meet in a special session to accept, modify or reject the new districts; if lawmakers approve the new maps, they then go to the governor’s desk to be approved or vetoed.
Redistricting would normally take place as soon as Census data became available, usually sometime in April, but those results were delayed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Paul Ray of District 13 is co-chair for the Legislative Redistricting Committee. He says these meetings across Utah are so important because “redrawing district lines will affect who your congressperson, school board representative, and house member is depending on what district you are put into.” Nearly every district is dealing with big population changes, so those lines are needing to be moved around based on growth.
This is where residents will come in. Following last year’s redistricting amendments, the Independent Redistricting Commission and the Legislative Redistricting Committee will hold a number of public hearings to gather input on new boundaries. The idea is that members of these communities know the area better than anyone else and can point out what towns need to be kept together or any geographical factors that might cause issues. Community members are asked to contribute their own maps for districts either for Congress, the house, the school board or all three.
At Logan’s redistricting meeting the committee will be examining maps drawn by the public as well as answering any questions the public might have. Residents are also encouraged to express any comments or concerns they have about boundary changes or problems with current district lines. Due to Cache Valley’s large growth over the past 10 years, the boundary line could change the House representative from junior Congressman Blake Moore to senior Congressman Chris Stewart.
Dr. Michael Lyons, a professor of political science at Utah State University, doesn’t expect redrawing district boundaries to change much since the Republican Party will be in charge. Despite the Independent Redistricting Commission being bipartisan, all four current districts are divided up in ways to overtake the Democratic vote— otherwise known as gerrymandering.
“While the existence of an independent redistricting panel might increase transparency and make the committee rationalize better, I don’t think it’s really going to make a difference,” Lyons said.
Despite this, representatives on the committee are urging residents to get involved and participate in the redistricting process. Citizen maps have been selected in the past, they say, so participating could make a difference.
“Public involvement is essential to the redistricting process and having public hearings across the state provides opportunities to answer questions Utahns may have,” Rep. Scott Sandall, a committee co-chair, states in a media release. “In the Legislature, we are committed to a fair, balanced, and transparent process. I encourage Utahns to join us and participate in this process.”
For more info or to draw your own map with an online tool, visit redistricting.utah.gov.