The next big political battle between Democrats and Republicans in Utah is slated to be over the once-a-decade political redistricting process that is now underway.
SALT LAKE CITY – The leaders of Utah’s Democratic Party have announced their intention to closely monitor the activities of the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission as it begins to redraw crucial voting district boundaries.
“Voters should choose their elected representatives,” according to Democratic Party chair Jeff Merchant. “Elected representatives should not choose their voters. By following the guidelines of the Independent Redistricting Commission, the (state) House and Senate have a chance to give Utahns (political boundaries) they can trust.”
Democratic Party officials statewide say they are strongly committed to ensuring the most non-political, unbiased approach to redrawing voting district boundaries this year in order to ensure that average Utahns – not partisan Republicans – get to choose their own elected representatives.
Under state Proposition 4, which was narrowly approved by Utah voters in 2018, the once-a-decade process of redrawing statewide political boundaries will now be a combined effort by the traditional committee of state lawmakers and an independent panel of appointed citizen representatives.
Those bodies are required to cooperate to provide a greater degree of transparency to the redistricting process.
According to population data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Aug. 12, Utahns now number 3.27 million, up from 2.7 million in 2010, an increase of more than 18 percent. That translates to nearly 40 persons per square mile, with the majority of the population increase occurring unsurprisingly in urban areas.
That factor alone heightens the challenge facing the members of Utah’s Legislative Redistricting Committee and the Independent Redistricting Commission, since much of their focus must be directed toward maintaining the integrity of so-called “communities of interest” in metropolitan areas.
A community of interest is a gathering of people who share a common bond. Its members may share an attachment to certain goals, information, traditions or memberships that may also be associated with geographic areas.
Preserving communities of interest within political boundaries is certainly the priority for self-appointed Democratic redistricting monitors.
“The Utah Democratic Party implores members of the Independent Redistricting Commission to consider the best interests of all Utahns in drawing the fairest line possible,” Merchant explains. “This means connecting communities of interest by minimizing the splitting of cities, towns and counties as well as keeping neighborhoods intact whenever possible.”
The compilation of 2020 Census data was delayed nationwide by the coronavirus pandemic. Now that members of Utah’s independent commission finally have access to those population figures, they are required to deliver their proposed district maps to the Legislative Committee for review by Nov. 30 to ensure that those new boundaries are approved prior to the 2022 election cycle.
Possibly at stake in the current redistricting process is the Republicans’ continued dominance of politics at all levels of government in Utah. The GOP currently has super-majorities in both the state House and Senate, with margins of 59–16 and 23–6 respectively, and similar majorities in most cities and counties.
Local lawmakers Sen. Scott Sandall (R-District 17) and Rep. Joel Ferry (R-District 1) are among the 20 members of the Legislative Redistricting Committee.
Former state senator Lyle Hillyard and former U.S. representative Rob Bishop are on the seven-member Utah Independent Redistricting Commission.
“Utah Democrats do not know what to expect from the independent commission,” Merchant admits. “But we do expect (political) maps that take people into account, not politicians.
“That is what democracy is about and that is what Utahns want.”