This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I often try to think of the seminal day when our nation lost its ability to solve complex problems. Could it have been the day when the concept of Liberal vs. Conservative was cemented in history during the 1968 debates, which almost went to blows between Gore Vidal and William Buckley on national TV with much of the language and name calling bleeped out? Was it the moment of the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 that drew a bright line in the sand and polarized our nation? Maybe it was the "swift boat" campaign attack where the "smear" became the goal, not the facts, which was the incubator for our toxic campaign discourse today.
When we look at Washington, we see everyone looking through the wrong end of the telescope, keeping their field of vision small and training their eye to catch any threat to their party or chances for re-election. It is not the answer to a problem that is important, but rather who gets credit for it. There is currently no need to work with the other side because the solution is not the destination.
I think the death of our functioning democracy is tied to policies that allowed candidates the ability to pick their voters instead of voters picking their candidates. Our elected officials no longer need to work with everyone; they just need to appease the voters they picked, with little if any regard for the newly marginalized minority within their voting district. This was the day our democracy died and you think it would stand out boldly in history. This was the seminal event that truly eliminated the need for our elected officials to work together.
In 2011, The Wall Street Journal named Utah the worst example of gerrymandering nationally. I remember card tables set up in front of libraries and grocery stores with citizens sitting on plastic chairs earnestly asking citizens how they would like to see our new state voting districts. I truly believe they had the voters' interests at the forefront, but in the end the dominant party went behind closed doors and mandated every district be 68 percent Republican. It gave us the contorted district map we have today.
Utahns want our districts to be selected by an independent commission by a two to one margin, according to a UtahPolicy.com poll taken last year. Only a dismal 39 percent of Republicans believe redistricting should be given to our Legislature, and they have the most to gain. Moderate Utah voters on both sides of the aisle want an independent commission by an 85 percent margin.
Redistricting will happen again following the 2020 election, and the only chance Utah will have at instituting an independent commission is through a citizen petition drive. However, our Legislature has made that a "moon shot" with recent changes in the laws to ensure it will not happen. Gathering petition signatures for meaningful reform in Utah has been taken off the table, even if the majority of voters want change.
This fall, when the ballots are counted, please remember that gerrymandering slanted the playing field, it corrupted our voting process and it seeks to kill our democracy.
Ed Blake is executive director of Salt Lake Valley Habitat for Humanity.