A committee looking into the subject has recommended that Logan could help its residents feel better represented on the Municipal Council by implementing voting districts, but for most current council members, the report raised more questions than it answered.
“I just think I think equitable representation is a goal that we should strive for,” said Keegan Garrity, a neighborhood council representative on the Voting District Committee.
While the council did not immediately accept the recommendation of the committee at its most recent meeting, the discussion is ongoing.
“It inspired me to look at different perspectives,” Chair Mark Anderson said. “One, I would love to know more about the benefits of each type of voting system, and the cons, as well.”
Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University, will be presenting to the Logan Municipal Council on Tuesday with more of the history on different voting options, and positive and negative effects of the options the council will be looking at.
The history of the issue
In 2019, then-Council Member Jess Bradfield advocated for a switch from the city’s at-large election system for Logan Municipal Council to a district-based system, stating he was the only representative living on the west side of Logan.
Because the Municipal Council was in the middle of an election cycle — one in which Garrity, though not named by Bradfield, was a challenger campaigning from west of Main Street — then-Chair Jeannie Simmonds determined it would be more appropriate to examine the issue after the new year to avoid politicizing the issue.
In 2020, a committee was made up of representatives from each neighborhood committee: Tiffany Vail of Adams neighborhood, Sherilyn Wilson of Bridger, Craig Christensen of Ellis, Kent Field of Hillcrest, Gail Yost of Wilson, and Garrity of Woodruff.
They examined current voting records compared to historical data, what voting systems are used by Logan’s peer cities and the benefits and detriments of both, though not all of the information was included in the report. The majority of members recommended a switch to either by-district voting or a hybrid version with some at-large seats, some district, with only Field dissenting.
Field did not return requests for comment, but the report noted his decision stemmed from concerns about candidates running unopposed in some areas, especially when combined with low voter turnout in some neighborhoods.
But “almost the very time we were discussing that, we saw 16 people show up to apply” for Bradfield’s former seat, according to Garrity, and a number were from the west side — including newly elected Council Member Ernesto Lopez.
Multiple members of the council have said they represent all of the city, not just their neighborhoods, but acknowledged whether voters feel represented is subjective to each constituent.
“People from all over the city reach out to me, but maybe they feel comfortable doing that because they know me,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to say. The question for us to look at (is) do you feel more represented because you get to vote for all five seats on the council, or is it better if you feel represented by the person in your neighborhood but didn’t get to vote for the other four?”
Simmonds said the rationale behind the at-large voting system in the city is the former, and the idea that the best candidate for the job gets in, regardless of location, but the committee — except for Field — advocated for smaller-area control.
“When it comes down to it, the smaller the community or neighborhood, the more likely the people who are in that community are to participate,” she said.
Anderson said while it’s an issue the council needs to explore more, that rationale might also have unintended consequences, such as the demographics of a potential district — especially if the concern is increasing minority participation.
“Would it give the minorities in our community a better chance at being represented, or would it break us up so small nobody gets represented?” he said. “We need to look at some unintended consequences of changing, and then consequences of not changing as well.”
But ultimately, both the council and the committee agreed voter participation needs to increase in the city, because currently only 24% of residents participate in local elections.
“It is complicated — all the more reason to talk about it and invite public comment,” Garrity said. “And I think it’ll be really telling how they decide to move forward after the presentation next week.”
But even that may not be enough, according to Yost.
“It is not about the good will & good intentions of today’s council members, however much they think that they can represent every voter equally,” Yost wrote to The Herald Journal. “Multi-cultural & multi-social status must be lived to fully understand & fully represent.”
For example, though the Latinx community makes up approximately 15% of the population in Logan, Lopez is the first representative from Mexico to serve on the council.
“We have to find a better balance,” Yost said. “That’s basically what it comes down to. We have to find a better balance of understanding all of the voters, all of the taxpayers — even renters who don’t vote are taxpayers. They’re paying taxes, just by living here, so we have to make a better balance, so that we are more inclusive.”
Diversity and representation
Another recommendation by the committee was to send a survey out to residents to see if they shared several committee members’ views that the current council — largely made up of residents from the Hillcrest and Wilson neighborhoods — represented constituents on the west side of town, despite where they reside.
The Woodruff and Adams neighborhoods have the highest populations in the city, but have had only three and two representatives elected from each respective area since 2001.
Wilson and Hillcrest neighborhoods “are the wealthiest, least ethnically diverse, and have the highest percentage of owner-occupied housing,” the report states. The areas have produced the highest number of elected council members and also have some of the highest voter turnout in the city.
While “Hillcrest is 90% owner-occupied” housing, Bridger — which has only produced one representative since 2001 — is only 27% and has some of the lowest voter participation, according to data from the 40 voting precincts in Logan, which has lead some to question whether that would change with an immediate shift to district voting.
“It’s like, which comes first: the chicken or the egg?” Simmonds asked, “Because, really, if you had enough people voting, anybody who ran could get elected. If you had enough people voting in a certain area, they’re going to have more sway in choosing the people, but they’re also choosing the people because they voted. … so if you say someone is underrepresented, and collectively nobody votes, is that underrepresentation? Or is that a voting issue?”
Both Anderson and Yost agreed economics come into play when it comes to both voter turnout and participation in local government, and Anderson said that was aggravated by the housing bubble burst of 2009, which lead to an economic recession.
“People lost homes,” Anderson said. “People lost jobs. The economy really slowed down for a lot of years and only in the last couple of years has it started to improve for people. That may have had as large of an impact on participation as anything else, but we haven’t looked at that.”