A 74 to 1 vote may not be enough to avoid a lawsuit

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Although Utah has never experienced a redistricting lawsuit, the state may be the facing its first suit on the matter this year even with a 74 to 1 vote of approval in congress.

A congressman, a BYU professor and a hopeful governor-to-be came together at a BYU Political Affairs Society meeting last Thursday to discuss Utah’s recent redistricting and the complexities that fueled it. A few of the complexities to be were proposed and discussed as the meeting progressed.

“If you asked me today whether the party, or some individuals who are associated with the democratic party, were going to sue, I’d say that’s more likely than not,” said Rep. Brian King, a Democrat. “But I think to some extent that’s in large part because there has to be some credibility behind the threat that was made by the Democratic party chair.”

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Reps. Ken Sumsion, left, and Brian King, right, discuss Utah's recent redistricting on Thursday night at BYU.
Democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis said in late September that the state would be taken to court unless Republicans backed away from their newest map proposition. The day before Dabakis’ comments were published, congress approved the very map he spoke of. The day after his comments, the map went before the state legislature.

“Redistricting is the most political process the legislature gets involved in,” said Rep. Ken Sumsion, who recently announced his intentions to oppose his fellow Republican, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in the race for governor. “Politics are too complicated for one person to sit and try to draw up a map themselves,”

Sumsion headed the redistricting committee, which had the purpose of deciding where district lines would lie in relation to demographics with different political interests. One potential problem with redistricting is that district lines could hypothetically be drawn to break up the voting power of a geographically concentrated demographic with similar voting tendencies.

“One of the things that congress was very concerned about back in the 1890s, when Utah kept petitioning to become a state, was the domination of the LDS Church,” King said. “There were many references in the state constitution to the need to not allow one faction or one religion or one group to dominate the political or economic affairs of the state of Utah, and I think that may very well be something we end up hearing more about in a lawsuit.”

King said  organizations outside of the Democratic party are much more likely to point their fingers in the direction of religion than the Democratic party itself.

King also said a common lack of voting motivation throughout Utah may be a result of the low level of political competition in the state. He suggested creating more competitive voting districts could improve voter turnout.

“The answer simply to make all districts competitive, I agree that that would be a good thing, but I don’t think that is the catch all to get more people to go vote,” Sumsion said. “I think it’s more complicated than that.”

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