According to Constitutional law, every 10 years, a nationwide census is taken to determine how many people are currently living in the United States. While the census is a familiar tradition in many American lives and a landmark designating another completed decade, few people are aware of the accompanying redistricting process.
“Utah draws new districts for its four U.S. House Seats, its 75 state house seats, its 29 state senate seats and its 15 board of education seats after each new Census, in order to keep the population balanced,” said BYU political science professor Adam Brown.
The task of allocating proper representation in state and federal government according to the population, is termed redistricting. Because populations fluctuate over time and vary from county to county, redistricting is vital to ensure that communities are being represented fairly in Congress.
Due to accusations of partisan gerrymandering following the 2011 redistricting results, Utahns in 2018 voted to create an independent redistricting commission that is solely focused on the needs of the people, rather than the goals of politicians. This independent commission works parallel to the state committee, fulfilling the same purpose, but ideally with less political entanglements and motivations. Utah is on the forefront of this growing trend that is seeking to minimize corruption by having both an independent and legislative redistricting committee.
“There is nothing more personal in politics than who represents you,” said Katie Wright, executive director of the Utah based organization Proposition 4 – Better Boundaries.
“Redistricting is a decennial opportunity for the lines that create districts to be redrawn and that is a really critical moment for citizens to be able to identify who their community is and how they should be represented,” Wright said. “It is a fundamental part of the democratic process and impacts the very practical parts of governing.”
The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission is responsible for gathering information and public thoughts about modifying district boundaries. Their website allows for members of the community to submit their own map suggestions as well as leave public comments for commission’s consideration about certain special interest communities.
In conjunction with the independent commission is the Legislative Redistricting Committee. This committee, operated by elected state officials, performs the same functions as the independent commission and allows for communities to submit similar information.
Once both committees have received input from the community, maps drafted from both efforts will be examined and voted upon.
While some people doubt the efficacy of the independent commission’s efforts, Utah House Rep. Kelly Miles believes their input will be appreciated.
“Paul Ray, the co-chair of the Legislature’s redistricting committee, plans to take their input. If they put together maps and it makes better sense, he has no problem using their maps. They want to come up with the best format possible,” Miles said.
Public hearings are being held weekly across the state as another way for both organizations to gather input from the people. In Provo, residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions at a community hearing organized by the Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. at the Provo Recreation Center. The legislature’s committee held a hearing in Orem last month.
Students and all members of the community are encouraged to participate and get involved in this exercise of our representative government.
“I would encourage people to get involved,” said Holly Richardson, former member of the House of Representatives and editor of Utah Policy Daily. “There are a couple of really great ways to get involved. There are several different hearings that the community can come to. Just show up. Go to meetings, submit comments, and make a map.”
Following the submission of public comments and map drafts from the public, the independent commission will submit their proposed maps to the state legislature for consideration on Nov. 1. The last public hearing regarding redistricting will be held by the legislature at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Nov. 10.
Utah’s deadline for having complete, drafted districts is no later than the annual general session next following the legislature’s receipt of the census.