Redistribution occurs rarely – only once every 10 years, closely following the US Census.
The 2020 census revealed several notable changes in Utah’s demographics, and if districts are drawn with integrity, new districts should reflect these demographic changes and population growth to give equal representation to citizens.
Utah’s Latino population has grown by almost 38% and Latinos now make up 15% of Utah’s population. It is important that these citizens have equal representation; lawmakers should carefully consider the impacts that boundary changes will have on minority citizens and the freedom of each citizen to elect the officials who best represent their communities.
The redistribution process also has an impact on how resources are reinvested to better support communities. Changes in population growth experienced statewide have revealed a new list of the 10 most populous cities. This has major implications for the political representation of Utah residents in these cities and elsewhere, and these changes should be appropriately reflected in the new mapping.
This standard of redistribution is set out in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and the process Utah follows is described in more detail in the Utah Constitution. So much depends on its results, not least of which is the promise of equal and fair representation of elected officials at all levels of government.
The redistribution has an impact on who each of us represents in Congress and the state legislature, and who we can vote for on the state school board. Fair cards ensure that every voter gets fair and equal representation, protects the public interest, and ensures that elected officials are accountable to voters for their actions.
The Utahns voted to create an independent commission, and our elected officials should be held accountable for that vote. More than half a million voters in Utah supported Proposition 4 in 2018 to establish the independent redistribution commission.
The Legislature has already passed a compromise bill in 2020, which was negotiated with Better Boundaries and received broad bipartisan support.
Ultimately, the legislature is responsible for adopting the results of the slicing, but within the limited timeframe of the legislative session, and given a more limited timeframe for drawing the slicing maps due to the delayed results of the census of 2020, it is political imperative to count on the assistance and expertise of the independent commission.
The commission was structured to be balanced, transparent, impartial and fair, in order to avoid the appearance or reality of partisan gerrymandering. And as a commission established by voters, they gather input from the public across the state to create fair maps that best represent voters and their communities.
This invaluable feedback and public awareness should therefore inform the legislature process; however, since the Legislature has the flexibility to choose from several card options, it may completely ignore the commission’s contribution, disregarding the will of the voters to whom lawmakers are ultimately accountable.
Failure to take the commission’s recommendations seriously is also a huge waste of the million dollars of taxpayer dollars that voters have supported to fund the commission. The legislature must be held accountable both for the voice of the people and for this use of taxpayers’ money.
Why should we care about this issue? Fair constituency promotes equal representation under the law, including protecting minority rights. Partisan gerrymandering harms our democratic institutions and diminishes the importance of individual voices. It allows elected officials to choose their voters rather than voters choose their elected officials. It increases the polarization and distorts the representation. This can reduce voter confidence in our systems and increase cynicism.
As citizens of Utah, we believe it is in our state’s best interests to pay attention to this 10-year process. Contact lawmakers in your state, especially members of the Legislative Redistribution Committee, and ask them to seriously consider the contribution of the Utah Independent Redistribution Commission. The commission does the difficult job of assessing communities of interest, receiving feedback from residents across the state, and evaluating census data to formulate multiple sets of maps.
Certainly, this effort can inform the legislature selection process, rather than the legislature reinventing the wheel in the shortage of time and at the expense of taxpayer funds and voter participation in the process. We urge the citizens of Utah to stay engaged in the process by attending and commenting at any of the commission public hearings or legislature public hearings currently taking place in the state.
Laura Lewis Eyi is a member of the Utah Legislative Committee for Mormon Women for Ethical Government. Elizabeth VanDerwerken is the Utah Chapter Co-Chair for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.