FILE PHOTO – Utah Capitol by Chris An on Unsplash
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Republican Utah lawmakers were weighing redistricting maps Monday that further carve up Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County as a crowd of frustrated people urged them to choose districts drawn by a voter-approved independent body.
Many speakers argued the lawmaker-drawn maps were aimed at further diluting the political voice of those who live in and around the state capital, a process known broadly as gerrymandering. Lawmakers, though, said their districts are aimed at reflecting the state as a whole by including both urban and rural voters.
Many speakers at a legislative hearing, though, said putting Salt Lake County into four districts rather than the three its currently in would further drown out dissenting voices. Utah is overall a reliably Republican state, but its 4th Congressional district has flipped between Republicans and Democrats. The lawmaker-drawn maps are generally considered to make that district more reliably conservative.
“It looks like a group of people who want to retain control continue to refuse to respect the will of the people,” said Ogden resident David Timmerman.
Lawmakers, though, said they had traveled the state and taken “many hours” of public input.
“We’ve made decisions that we think best reflects the will of the people that we are elected to represent,” said Republican Representative Paul Ray. A handful of people spoke in favor of the maps drawn by lawmakers who are tasked with the redistricting process.
Over the next two weeks, the GOP-dominated state Legislature is expected to formally adopt new maps for Congressional districts, as well as the state Legislature and school board, during a special session.
Ahead of that once a decade process, voters in 2018 narrowly approved the creation of the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission to draw nonpartisan political districts. That body worked for three years and then drew district maps for lawmakers to consider: three choices for each type of office.
But lawmakers are under no obligation to choose one of those maps, and also drew their own set of district maps.
Those were unveiled late Friday, less than three days before the only public hearing on those proposals. That short timeline was also a point of frustration for many speakers.