Utah's new Legislative Redistricting Committee is redrawing congressional boundaries this year for this decade. This is not an easy process, but it's critical, and the outcome is important to democracy. Citizens want this process to be fair.
While it is difficult to please everyone and to keep all common interests together, boundaries should not be politically drawn, should not dilute undesired votes by tagging them onto larger populations of preferred votes. That is called gerrymandering.
The committee and some media have recently offered a fact to prove the Legislature is fair: Utah has four Republican registered voters for every one Democratic registered voter. Our elected Legislature is proportioned similarly, four to one. Thus, they argue, the Legislature does not gerrymander because it has balanced representation.
But this fact neglects to mention a very important group of people, the largest of them all, the independents. Independents, or unaffiliated, account for 985,000 Utah voters, approximately 300,000 more than registered Republicans.
Independents help both dominant parties. They have been instrumental in keeping Rep. Jim Matheson in the U.S. House after 2001's Republican redistricting maneuver to thwart Matheson. They help elect candidates that usually, but not always, stand fairly mainstream.
Our state has some good elected officials partly due to Independents' sway. Yet these good politicians are being silenced by the vocal and controlling legislative extreme. I only guess, but many Independents probably dislike the way some Utah politicians are going after federal land, eliminating democracy from school instruction, and taking an extremely strong stand on illegal immigration.
In an ideal democracy, devoid of campaign finance concerns, of special interest kowtowing, of a caucus system offering only disappointing candidates to primaries and a general election, Independent votes are appealing. Independents represent our state's largest voting population and they vote.
Committee member and Senate President Michael Waddoups recently mentioned that Utah's gerrymandering is legal because it has never been successfully challenged in court. I suppose there is a first for everything.
On April 25 the redistricting committee spent time reviewing legal procedures and encouraging fairness, which is great. The legal adviser cautioned the committee to never publicly express intent when drawing lines, even to staff.
Do what is right, not what you can legally do is what I plead in front of this redistricting committee. I am with RepresentMeUtah!, a good government group challenging this committee to be fair.
Waddoups said that if any group draws lines, its preference could also be considered gerrymandering. Yet, fair plans were presented and rejected in 2001. The Legislature chose a more egregious plan to try to eliminate Matheson. It also included blatant weaving of boundaries in House districts across the state.
The Wall Street Journal in 2001 called Utah's then-new boundaries a scam on Beehive State voters. No wonder we have the lowest voter turnout in the nation.
Votes are becoming meaningless. If the Republican-controlled committee divides Salt Lake County into four or even three U.S. congressional districts, it has gerrymandered. It has diluted the votes of the largest county population in the state, a county not any more important than any other county, but one with many diverse votes, and one, like other counties, that shares common interests.
All citizens should thank legislators when fair boundaries are complete. But independents, please also remember these officials if boundaries do not turn out fair, and vote accordingly in the next election. Your majority of votes will be meaningful.
Kelli Lundgren lives in Cottonwood Heights, is a business owner and the spokeswoman for RepresentMeUtah!, a group following Utah's redistricting process and asking for fairness.