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Lawmakers Announce Changes To Prop 4 Independent Redistricting Commission

A man in a gray suit stands at a podium in front of a few other people, an American flag and the State of Utah flag

State leaders and advocates for an independent redistricting commission announced Thursday some changes to the law approved through the Proposition 4 ballot initiative. 

Lawmakers and representatives from the Better Boundaries organization have reached an agreement on the implementation of Proposition 4, the 2018 voter-approved initiative that creates a seven-person commission to recommend voting maps to the legislature for consideration, to curb gerrymandering. Redistricting is the process of re-drawing congressional and state legislative boundaries, and gerrymandering is when a party in power manipulates the redistricting process to favor themselves or hurt opponents. Under Prop 4, the legislature could accept or reject any map, if it explained its decision to the public.

Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Provo Republican Curt Bramble, keeps much of Prop 4 intact but addresses some components the legislature felt were unconstitutional, in that it’s the legislature’s responsibility to undertake redistricting. So, the bill does keep the independent redistricting commission from Prop 4 but also allows the legislature to keep its own redistricting committee. Both can recommend maps to the legislature. The commission—not the committee—is required to adopt standards to draw maps fairly, by preserving communities and prohibiting the favoring of incumbent elected officials. The bill also removes Prop 4’s requirement for the legislature to explain its decision. SB 200 also appropriates $1 million to support the commission.

Bramble says a bipartisan discussion with Better Boundaries to improve the new law began after the referendum passed in November 2018.

“For those of us that represent districts where the referendum failed, and for those of us that represent districts where the referendum passed, we can all hold our heads high and say this is better for the state of Utah,” Bramble said.

Late last week, former state representative and Better Boundaries Executive Director Rebecca Chavez-Houck said months of negotiations with the legislature to protect Prop 4 broke down when Republican leadership declined to agree to ban partisan and incumbent gerrymandering during the redistricting process. There were concerns the legislature would repeal Prop 4 altogether.

Jeff Wright, the Republican chairperson for Better Boundaries, spoke to the bill. He says it’s easy to criticize processes but difficult to achieve results.

“Better Boundaries is satisfied that, through negotiations, we have a compromise and a legislative partner that together will make the process of redistricting more transparent, fair and accountable,” Wright said.

Chavez-Houck says the commission’s success relies on public participation, whether by serving as a commissioner or giving input at hearings hosted by the commission.

“This is not Better Boundaries’ commission," Chavez-Houck said. "This is the people's commission, and the public should hold it to account, but also be an active member in this process.”

When Prop 4 was on the ballot in 2018, 66% of Summit County voters supported the measure, while 52% of voters in Wasatch County opposed it.

The state will begin the redistricting process in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.