In November 2018, A majority of Utah voters – statewide – passed Prop 4. The Utah Lieutenant Governor certified the election and Prop 4 is now the law of the land as “The Utah Independent Redistricting and Standards Act.”
Prop 4 is subject to legislative and legal challenges. The Legislature may attempt to undermine or even overturn the law in any general or special session. The law may also be challenged in the courts. These measures can take place any time up until the implementation of the law in 2021 when the next redistricting process takes place (some time after the issuance of the 2020 national census).”
Redistricting is the process by which political districts are drawn. District lines are redrawn throughout our country every 10 years following completion of the United States census. In Utah, the redistricting process for legislative, congressional and school board districts is currently controlled by the state Legislature.
Gerrymandering is the process by which some person or group in authority manipulates the redistricting process for personal gain.
It allows politicians to choose their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians, and it results in a lack of political accountability.
Prior to the passage of Prop 4, Utah had virtually no rules to govern the redistricting process. The prior rules were limited to equal distribution of population and the Voting Rights Acts. This absence of rules leads to gerrymandering.
Slicing and dicing of communities: A common gerrymandering tactic has been to unnecessarily break apart cities and towns. Fifteen Utah cities are split into two or more Congressional districts -- diminishing the collective voting power of those communities. Many other cities and towns are broken into multiple House and Senate districts.
A particularly egregious example of this can be found with the city of Holladay, a city of approximately 30,000 people. Holladay is split between four State House districts, two State Senate districts and two Congressional districts. A typical State House district has roughly 30,000 people. Who benefits from this? Certainly not the voters. “Accountability is lost when a city like Holladay is broken apart into so many districts. “ - Rob Dahle, Mayor of Holliday* (Independent) *Formal title only used for identification purposes.
Non-competitive races: In the last decade, more than one-fifth of Utah’s state legislative races went uncontested. In 2016, seven out of 10 of Utah’s state General Election races were noncompetitive.
Low voter turnout: A study by the non-partisan Utah Foundation suggests that the noncompetitive nature of Utah’s elections is a major reason why Utah ranks 39th nationally in voter turnout. This is a dramatic change from prior decades. In 1976, Utah voter turnout was as high as 70% -- far above the national average.
In the spring of 2017, a bipartisan coalition of community leaders, redistricting advocates, and grassroots citizens formed Utahns for Responsive Government and launched the Better Boundaries initiative. Between September 2017 and April 2018, the campaign collected over 190,000 signatures in support of the initiative from Utahns across the state. The initiative was officially certified as Proposition 4 for the 2018 General Election Ballot on June 1, 2018.
A ballot initiative is a process by which citizens propose a law. To make it on the ballot, the initiative must first pass a review process by the offices of the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General, and then must meet strict statewide signature gathering requirements. The ballot initiative process is another way for laws to be passed in Utah in addition to a bill proceeding through the legislative process. The Utah Constitution gives equal weight to legislatively passed laws and ballot initiatives. (UT Const. Art. VI § 1)
Prop 4 addresses the problem of gerrymandering in two ways. First, it creates a seven-member Independent Redistricting Commission. Second, the initiative creates a set of common-sense standards for the purpose of thwarting gerrymandering.
Prop 4 also forbids drawing districts to unduly favor or disfavor any incumbent, candidate, or political party. And it allows Utah voters to challenge a map enacted by the Legislature that violates the legal standards. Finally, Prop 4 creates new requirements in order to make the process more transparent.
To the greatest extent practicable:
In addition, the rules:
*For a complete description of these rules, together with legal definitions, see petition lines 104-136
Under Prop 4, the Legislature continues to play a role in the redistricting process. The Commission provides recommended maps to the Legislature, subject to an up or down vote. The rules apply to both the Commission and the Legislature.
The Utah State Constitution specifically mentions the Legislature in the redistricting process. An amendment to the state Constitution requires a 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature, and may not be accomplished through a ballot initiative. Prop 4 was designed to operate within the framework of the State Constitution, while ensuring a dramatic improvement in the current redistricting process.
NO! 18 other states have adopted some form of redistricting reform to reduce the effects of gerrymandering. Prop 4 was written based on a review of these other states, and the drafters of Prop 4 created a structure that was appropriate for Utah.
The current redistricting court cases throughout the country are intended to address maps that are already in place (i.e., maps that were drawn through prior redistricting cycles). Prop 4 is intended to proactively create common sense rules to thwart gerrymandering in the future.