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Gerrymandering

By Lee Davidson
·
Published: June 28
Updated: July 08, 2018
While support is shrinking from last year, a new poll shows that Utahns still favor by nearly a 2-1 margin creating an independent commission to redraw the state’s political boundaries during its once-every-decade redistricting.

The Better Boundaries initiative, which allows voters to create such a commission, will appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

A new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 50 percent of Utahns favor the initiative, 28 percent oppose it, and a large 23 percent are undecided.

That is down from a similar poll a year ago, which showed a 61-22 percent margin of support.

“We continue to see from this poll that a majority of Utahns agree that voters should choose their leaders, politicians shouldn’t choose their voters,” said Jeff Wright, co-chairman of Better Boundaries and a former Republican congressional candidate. His other co-chairman is Ralph Becker, a Democrat who was mayor of Salt Lake City.

“We are confident that, as we continue to have a dialogue with voters, the Better Boundaries initiative will pass, making Utah’s government more accountable to the people,“ Wright said.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune
Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune
Utahns from across the political spectrum support the initiative — including a plurality of Republicans, despite widespread allegations that gerrymandering has helped that party in the past.

A 45-30 percent margin of Republicans favor it, as do a 61-23 percent majority of Democrats and 52-26 percent of unaffiliated voters.

The initiative would create a seven-member commission appointed by the governor and majority and minority party leaders of the Legislature. It would be banned from using partisan data, and instructed to follow city, county and geographic lines where possible.

The Legislature would be required to vote up or down on its plans, and provide explanations if they are rejected.

Removing the ultimate power from the Legislature to draw new political maps would require a state constitutional amendment. Such an amendment would have to be initiated by the Legislature, an unlikely prospect.

The initiative comes amid persistent allegations of gerrymandering, including the last time the state redrew boundaries after the 2010 census.

Then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson accused GOP legislators of splitting up his old district three ways to make re-election impossible in the district where he lived — so he chose to run in an adjacent one that included more of his old constituents.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
With the unusual move, Matheson barely won re-election — by 768 votes — over GOP challenger Mia Love in 2012. Two years later, he chose not to seek re-election and Love won the seat.

Since then, Utah’s U.S. House delegation has had no member from Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous, for the first time in many decades.

Last year, a nationwide analysis by The Associated Press said Utah Republicans won an average of 64 percent of the votes in each state legislative district, but GOP candidates won 83 percent of all the seats. It concluded that Utah Republicans won three more seats than they likely would have if the districts had been drawn more objectively.

Legislative leaders defend their past redistricting as fair, and question the need for a redistricting commission.

“There is no such thing as an independent commission — independent of the Legislature, maybe,” said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. “People think that independent means there are no biases. There are going to be biases.”

He adds, “You’re giving a lot of this drawing over to people who are not accountable or not elected.” If voters don’t like plans drawn by legislators, they can vote them out, he said.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Speaker of the House Greg Hughes applauds as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser shakes hands with Gov. Gary Herbert as he leaves the Utah House of Representatives after giving his State of the State address in Salt Lake City Wednesday January 24, 2018.
(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Speaker of the House Greg Hughes applauds as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser shakes hands with Gov. Gary Herbert as he leaves the Utah House of Representatives after giving his State of the State address in Salt Lake City Wednesday January 24, 2018.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said, “I think you want your elected body doing that work and being accountable to those they represent. And you’ve got people who are ready to sue you if you do it wrong. And that does not go unnoticed.”

Hughes and Niederhauser noted that the last time the Legislature redrew boundaries, it invited any interested individual or group to submit proposals by using map-drawing software made available to the public. Lawmakers held hearings statewide and they say all proposals were taken seriously.

As a sign of fairness, Hughes said some GOP members were consolidated into shared districts — meaning someone had to go. “When you see colleagues whose districts have been combined within the majority party, that would signal we are trying to be as fair as we can.”

Also, Niederhauser said a sign of fairness is the state has not been sued over its redistricting plans.

“No matter how you draw them, somebody can say they are gerrymandered,” he said. “That’s the argument everybody uses to try to minimize what was done.”

Both leaders said they believe lawmakers will seriously consider plans submitted by a redistricting commission, but may reject it. “I think we’d consider what they draw, just like we’d consider another organization that would draw things. That’s what we did last time,” Niederhauser said.

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, notes she and others pushed for a redistricting commission for years, and says it makes sense — but will never happen unless voters approve it in an initiative.

“It’s just counterintuitive to allow that when your own interests as an incumbent could be jeopardized by an independent commission,” so legislators won’t pass it, she said. While parties worried about such a commission that redrew Salt Lake County Council districts in 2010, “everyone said that worked really well

By Lee Davidson
·
Published: October 3, 2017
Updated: October 03, 2017
Utah Democrats are rooting with gusto for a lawsuit argued Tuesday before the U.S. Supreme Court that for the first time could ban political district boundaries if they were drawn to give one party an unjust disadvantage only for partisan reasons.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, was chairman of the Utah Democratic Party during the state’s last redistricting — in 2011. He says a high-court ruling against partisan gerrymandering would give Democrats in the state grounds to sue over voter maps created by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Up to now, the law has allowed overturning districts only for other, discrimination-related reasons.

“You had to show racial or ethnic issues. If you couldn’t do that, then you didn’t win,” Dabakis said — adding that his party didn’t sue partially because of that, and partially because of the high financial cost. Still, he argues that Utah’s political boundaries gave Republicans more seats than even their big numbers should merit.

Unless the court rules otherwise, he said, “It’s perfectly legal now for politicians to make decisions based entirely on partisanship….. What this would do is say, no they can’t just gerrymander based on politics.”

In the case before the high court, Wisconsin Democrats argue that both parties win roughly the same percentage of its statewide vote — but Republicans gerrymandered boundaries so that they win a strong majority of Legislative seats.

Dabakis and others argue the same sort of thing — on a smaller scale — happened in Utah.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City speaks about the call by the LDS Church for non-discrimination, during a press conference at the state capitol building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 27, 2015.
Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City speaks about the call by the LDS Church for non-discrimination, during a press conference at the state capitol building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 27, 2015.
For example, Ogden is large enough to merit most of three state House districts and Democrats would win them all, he argues. But he said GOP lawmakers sliced up the state’s seventh-largest city and connected the pieces into districts where their majorities are heavily Republican.

“So there is no voice for Ogden,” he says.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who was co-chairman of the redistricting committee in 2011, disagrees. He says the panel worked hard to be fair, but acknowledges partisan data was weighed and used in some cases.

“I don’t think it made a difference in the redistricting that we did at the time because of the way the state is made up,” with its heavy GOP membership statewide, he said.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, answers a question about tax legislation during media availability at the State Captiol in Salt Lake City Friday March 3, 2017.
Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, answers a question about tax legislation during media availability at the State Captiol in Salt Lake City Friday March 3, 2017.
However, a nationwide analysis in June by The Associated Press found that Utah had drawn its legislative districts in a way to give the GOP extra help. Republicans won an average of 64 percent of the votes in each district, but GOP candidates won 83 percent of all the seats, it found.

The AP analysis concluded that redistricting helped Utah Republicans win three more seats than they likely would have if districts had been drawn more objectively.

Dabakis said while the Legislature’s redistricting committee made a show of using nonpartisan data in public presentations, the final maps were approved in a long, closed-door Republican caucus that ignored months of public hearings.

“It was the American political process at it ugliest, meanest and most selfish where legislators are picking their voters, instead of having the voters pick the legislators,” he said.

Former Utah first lady Norma Matheson is another Democrat cheering for the court case. She says her late husband, former Democratic Gov. Scott Matheson, formed a bipartisan commission that recommend fair procedures for the 1980 redistricting — “but the Legislature ignored it. That shows this has been an issue for a long time.”

Her son, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, was targeted in two separate rounds of redistricting, she said. He accused legislators of splitting up his old district into several pieces in the attempt to make re-election impossible. He held on by less than 1 percent in the 2002 election and then, when the 2011 Legislature reshuffled it again, he ran in an adjacent district that included much of his old district. He again prevailed by less than 1 percent.

“He survived anyway,” Norma Mathson notes — winning by 768 votes (out of more than 240,000 cast) over GOP challenger Mia Love in 2012. Two years later he chose not to seek re-election, and Love won the seat.

“I think the general public is very concerned about gerrymandering,” says Norma Matheson, adding that is why there‘s a drive on to ask voters to create an independent redistricting commission in next year’s election.

Meanwhile, Okerlund said the Legislature drew congressional boundaries not so much to try to hurt Jim Matheson, but to give Democrats at least a fighting chance in all four of the state’s congressional districts.

“If you were to draw a congressional district that included only Salt Lake City, there certainly would have been a majority of Democrats who would have supported Jim Matheson. But if you did that, the other three districts would be completely, totally partisan Republican,” he said.

“So to try to make a fair opportunity in each of the congressional districts,” he said, “we tried to draw the boundaries so that there’s some opportunity for both parties to have a representative.

Utah Proposition 4
A "yes" vote supports this measure to create a seven-member independent redistricting commission to draft maps for congressional and state legislative districts.
A "no" vote opposes this measure to create a seven-member independent redistricting commission, thereby leaving the Utah State Legislature responsible for congressional and state legislative district maps.
Overview
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of Utah's four United States Representatives and 104 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. United States Senators are not elected by districts, but by the states at large. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.[ 1][2][3][4]
How is redistricting currently done in Utah?
In Utah, both congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by the state legislature. These lines are subject to veto by the governor. Redistricting must be done during the legislative session immediately following the release of the results of a federal census according to Amendment D approved by voters in 2008.[ 5] The next federal decennial census will be in 2020.
What would Proposition 4 change?
Proposition 4 would create a seven-member independent redistricting commission to draft maps for congressional and state legislative districts. Members would be appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders. A person would not be eligible to serve as a commissioner if, during the four years before appointment, he or she was a lobbyist; was a candidate for or holder of any political or elected office; received compensation from a political party, political party committee, or political action committee associated with a political party. Members would submit redistricting plans to the Legislature for approval or rejection. Click here to read more about the commission members. Click here to read more about the process and standards the commission will use for creating new maps.
Who is supporting and opposing Proposition 4?
How current is this campaign finance information?
Better Boundaries is leading the campaign in support of Proposition 4.
Ballotpedia identified one committee—Utahns for Responsive Government—registered in support of Proposition 4. The committee had reported $1.94 million in contributions and $1.64 million in expenditures. The largest donor was the Action Now Initiative, which gave $608,153.[ 6]
Ballotpedia has not identified any committees registered to oppose Proposition 4.
What other states have independent redistricting commissions?
Four states have an independent commission to conduct redistricting the state's U.S. House districts: Washington, Idaho, California, and Arizona. Six states have an independent commission to conduct redistricting for state House and Senate districts: Alaska, California, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.
Why is Proposition 4 on the ballot?
Following the completion of Utah's redistricting process, Republicans and Democrats began investigating the conduct of their respective political rivals. Both parties filed a Government Records Access and Management Act request, seeking communications regarding the redistricting process. This information, said Republicans, revealed that Democratic lawmakers worked behind the scenes to determine the political impact of redistricting proposals. The GOP called the actions hypocritical in light of Democratic calls for greater transparency. Democrats, however, argued that their actions were primarily defensive and were aimed at combating shady tactics on the part of state Republicans. Click here to read more about the redistricting processes in Utah in 2010 and the partisan conflicts that ensued.
What other states have redistricting measures on the ballot in 2018?
See also: Redistricting measures on the ballot
In 2018, voters will decide six ballot measures in five states that would change how congressional districts, state legislative districts, or both types are drawn following the decennial U.S. Census. Six is the highest number of redistricting-related ballot measures in a single year since 1982, when nine measures were on the ballot. Joshua Silver, CEO of the organization Represent.Us, described the measures as "the best reform map we’ve seen in decades."[ 7] The ballot measures follow the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous dismissal of the case Gill v. Whitford, which addressed the claim of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. In June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate standing. Therefore, the justices did not address the broader question of whether partisan gerrymandering claims can be brought to trial under the U.S. Constitution.[ 8] The following measures are on the ballot in 2018:

DMU Timestamp: September 17, 2018 17:21





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