By Lowell Nelson
Every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, states throughout the country redraw the boundaries of their congressional and legislative districts to ensure a near-equal distribution of citizens in each district, such that each person is equitably represented in government.
How these boundaries are drawn is frequently the subject of ferocious dispute, even precipitating lawsuits launched by a political party that views these boundaries as unfair. It can keep a community together or split it apart. It can change who wins an election. Ultimately, it can change who controls the Legislature, and which laws get passed.
As we approach the special legislative session Monday, let's thank the legislators who have spent countless hours considering numerous ways in which district boundaries can be drawn, as well as the many citizens who have provided input on the subject.
Let's also remind ourselves that the Legislature is fulfilling a responsibility commissioned in our Utah State Constitution, Article IX, Section 1 [Dividing the state into districts], "No later than the annual general session next following the Legislature's receipt of the results of an enumeration made by the authority of the United States, the Legislature shall divide the state into congressional, legislative, and other districts accordingly."
This is not the job of an independent and unaccountable commission.
Not only must legislators divide the state into congressional, legislative, and other districts, but they must do so in a way that distributes approximately the same number of citizens in each district. That is the prime directive.
Secondarily, legislators should endeavor to draw districts that are contiguous and compact, follow natural boundaries, and minimize disruption to existing districts. They must not be drawn to gain an unfair political advantage over another person or party. Plus, where possible, communities and counties should remain intact, and state legislative districts should be nested neatly in congressional districts.
And while there is no "silver bullet" that will guarantee an ideal outcome of the current redistricting effort, citizens should be aware of the numerous factors involved, and insist that it be done as simply and as fairly as possible. There is no room for political shenanigans.
The Utah Republican Party Platform demands "honesty, integrity, morality, and accountability of our public officials." And the results of Utah's redistricting efforts this year ought to reflect this standard.
Lowell Nelson is vice-chair of the Utah Republican Party. He lives in Highland.