This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Unless you're a political junkie, you probably don't pay much attention to how the Legislature draws the lines for Senate and House districts every 10 years after the census. But it's important, because legislators often draw those lines with an eye to keeping themselves or their party in power.
Those voting district maps influence who runs the Utah Legislature. They also play on whom Utah sends to Congress. Just ask Jim Matheson. During the last redistricting, Republicans in the Legislature did their best to redraw the 2nd Congressional District so that Matheson, a Democrat, couldn't retain his seat. It didn't work. But this being a census year, the Legislature soon will get out its map-making tools again.
The best way to avoid political gerrymandering would be for Utah to create an independent redistricting commission, but Utah legislators have rejected repeated attempts to do that. An initiative petition by a group called the Fair Boundaries Coalition failed this year to get enough signatures to put its proposal for an independent commission before the voters.
Nevertheless, an independent commission still would be the right thing to do. Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, carried a bill in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions to create a commission, and we would urge her or another lawmaker to take up the cause again next year. Certainly the bill would be timely.
Most commissions in other states are bipartisan and insulated from the power brokers on Capitol Hill. They are charged with drawing lines that keep populations within districts nearly the same while respecting existing political boundaries, such as those of cities and counties, as much as possible. The ideal map provides for districts that are compact, contiguous and blind to voters' party affiliation.
In the Information Age, gerrymandering has become highly technical. The staffs of legislative majorities can use polling and election data, together with computers, to create districts that are most friendly to their party and to incumbents. Independent commissions are designed to counteract this trend. Usually they recommend a map to the state legislature, which then has to vote it up or down. Several of Utah's neighboring states employ commissions.
One reason that Utahns don't vote in large numbers is one-party control. Keeping redistricting in the hands of the Legislature's majority contributes to that, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are calling the tune. It's time for a change.