Wasatch Back residents weigh in on state redistricting process
The Utah Legislature’s Redistricting Committee made a stop in Summit County on Friday to gather input from residents as the committee redraw’s the state’s congressional, state legislative, and school board maps.
Friday night’s meeting at Ecker Hill Middle School attracted several dozen citizens curious about Utah’s once-a-decade redistricting process.
The Legislative Redistricting Committee is made up of 20 members from both houses of the state legislature. The makeup also reflects the partisan split in the legislature with 15 Republicans and five Democrats.
The committee gave a brief presentation on the redistricting process and the legal boundaries they must respect, but the hearing was primarily for the committee to collect public feedback on how the maps should be drawn.
Over a dozen members of the public gave comments on Friday, the majority expressing concern over how the committee could divide the Wasatch Back. Summit County alone contains three separate house districts and two senate districts in the Utah Legislature. The municipal boundary of Park City is also a part of House District 54, which contains all of Wasatch county.
Some people see that as unfair to people in the greater Park City area, while others see an advantage in having a variety of legislators representing the larger community.
Summit County resident Susanne Rosenberg made the case that mixing urban and rural interests could cause more harm than good.
“The concept of merging urban with rural areas seems to be counterintuitive to the interests of those communities,” Rosenberg said. “As I think we all know, and we’ve seen in recent elections, those two areas tend to have very different goals, commitments, and interests. By trying to merge, as was done in the previous 10 years ago redistricting, it really pits those two communities against each other, and it doesn’t really equally represent either one of them.”
After several other members of the public also brought up their opposition to districts containing a mix of urban and rural elements, Republican State Senator Kirk Cullimore, who represents south Salt Lake County, clarified that the commission has not taken a stance on what they prefer the districts to look like. However, he did say the commission has heard many public comments in hearings in rural parts of the state that have specifically asked to contain urban segments.
The committee is relying heavily on things like city and county boundaries, obvious geographic markers like rivers, major roadways, or mountain ranges, as well as what are called “communities of interest” to draw the maps.
A community of interest could be groups of people who identify along political lines, live in the same area, or send children to the same schools.
Bill Goodall lives in Interlaken in the Heber Valley and implored the committee to work with the state’s independent commission to finalize the maps. The independent commission was formed after Utah voters approved Proposition 4 in 2018. The legislative committee is not required to adopt any of the commission’s suggestions.
“What we want to make sure you avoid is ending up with the same old maps, with the same old voices, for the same old reasons,” said Goodall. “I believe that you seriously need to listen to them based on the more perspectives that you can bring to the table, the better look you’ve got at the whole picture, and we desperately need you to do that for the wellness of our state.”
Republican State Senator Scott Sandall chairs the committee and represents northwestern Utah in Senate District 17. He said no matter how you look at it, the redistricting process is incredibly complex. Not only are there strict population requirements for each district, but people may also identify with several different communities of interest.
“I use the example, is your idea that your most important community of interest is where your kids go to school and what group that is, or is it where you go to church?” Sandall said. “Is it the city you live in, or is it the county you live in? Or is it, in the Uinta Basin for example, not just the county, but a geographic feature that then makes you a community of interest? Each person will define, and each area will define differently a community of interest, and also how they rank that in their priority.”
The legislative committee will continue a statewide tour of public hearings before meeting with the independent commission early next month to finalize Utah’s congressional, legislative, and school board maps. The full legislature is also expected to convene in a special session to approve the maps in late November.
More information on the legislative committee and the independent commission can be found here.