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Opinion: The high-stake musical chairs game of redistricting, explained

State leaders say the public will have almost a dozen opportunities to weigh in on redistricting before they redraw the state’s political boundaries. (PHOTO: KSL TV)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom. 

It’s sort of like a game you’d play on an app on your phone, except the stakes are millions of dollars instead of leveling up. I’m talking about the redistricting process currently underway in Utah and around the country.

Counties’ changing populations impact redistricting needs

The 2020 census showed us that people are moving out of some counties and into others. For instance, more than 10,000 people moved into Wasatch County since the 2010 census was conducted. Other counties that saw growth in Utah include Washington, Uintah and Morgan. On the other hand, Emery County lost 1,000 people in the same 10 years, a number that represents a tenth of its population. Other counties that experienced a loss in total residents include Wayne, Piute and Beaver.

Read more: Redistricting coming to Utah: How you can get involved

Why does this matter? It matters because every one of Utah’s 75 state representatives represents approximately 29,800 people. Every one of our 29 state senators represents about 77,000 Utahns. Those numbers need to stay the same. If we don’t redraw the lines, some senators and representatives will wind up representing far more residents than others, or far fewer. The rules don’t allow that.

Enter the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, a body made up of seven commissioners from both parties with some names you might recognize, including former Congressman Rob Bishop and former Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham. This commission will draw a map. They will move the lines around to give the senators and representatives the constituents they need so that each one has approximately the same number of constituents as the other. Their challenge? To do so in a way that does not gerrymander.

Redrawing the lines without gerrymandering

Gerrymander: Redistricting is sometimes called Gerrymandering

This political cartoon drawn by Elkanah Tisdale in 1812 lampooned then-Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who signed the bill that created the oddly-shaped district in his state. (Boston Gazette, March 1812).

The term gerrymander refers to the practice of drawing the lines in a way that favors one political party over another, diluting the democrats or republicans so one party doesn’t have a majority in any district, for instance. That word, gerrymander, comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. He drew the district lines in 1812 in a way that heavily favored the Democrats. The shape of one of the districts was so absurd it was said to resemble a salamander, or as a later cartoon called it, a “Gerry-mander.”

When the Independent Commission finishes its work, it will submit its map to the Legislative Redistricting Committee, which is made up of fifteen Republicans and five Democrats. That committee will take the work done by the commission, digest it, and will adopt some, all or none of the recommendations the commission offers. It is solely within the Legislative Committee’s discretion to draw the redistricting lines. The lines they draw have profound effects on all of us.

Senator Karen Mayne sits on the committee. She told me on A Woman’s View this weekend that “[i]t affects federal grants. It affects money from the federal and the state. It affects everyone.”

 

Because of what’s at stake in the redistricting process, you may want to attend one of the public hearings being held on this topic. Here is a list of the dates, times and locations of the hearings being held by the Legislative Redistricting Committee. 

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and the host of A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. You can hear her weekday mornings on 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, as well as catch her talk show on Sundays. 

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