Utah redistricting could be the subject of a ballot initiative and a lawsuit

Posted at 3:45 PM, Jul 07, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY -- How Utah lawmakers the boundaries for legislature and congress could be the subject of an upcoming ballot initiative and a possible lawsuit.

A group spearheaded by former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a Democrat, and former liquor control commissioner Jeff Wright, a Republican, is working on a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. It would create a bi-partisan commission to draw legislative and congressional boundaries to present to the Utah State Legislature, which has the authority to set the districts.

"As Utahns continue looking for ways to improve government in our state and in our Country, voters across the political spectrum agree that the people should choose their politicians, and not the other way around," Becker and Wright said in a joint statement issued through the Better Boundaries Campaign.

"Our communities will be best served when legislative and congressional districts are drawn by a neutral commission rather than by people who will campaign in those districts. Republicans and Democrats who support better boundaries have come together to pursue that goal, and we are working diligently to design a process that will meet the needs of Utah voters."

The initiative, which could be filed soon in an effort to make the 2018 ballot, takes aim at criticisms leveled against the legislature after the last census. Democrat-heavy Salt Lake County was split up amongst Utah's four congressional districts, and lawmakers faced claims that legislative boundaries tilted in favor of GOP candidates.

Chase Thomas, the policy counsel for Alliance for a Better Utah, a liberal think tank that supports the ballot initiative, said there are races -- Republican and Democrat -- that are no longer competitive.

"Democrats are running unopposed, Republicans are running unopposed," he said. "We need to make these seats competitive again."

Meanwhile, FOX 13 has learned of another group quietly contemplating a lawsuit against the state over how it draws boundaries. The Fair Redistricting Legal Team describes itself as being made up of more than 30 people working pro-bono to re-examine the 2011 boundaries and evaluate a potential legal challenge.

Thomas, has had some involvement with that, said the group was working independently of any other redistricting effort. The FRLT said it was merely evaluating the issue now and also watching a redistricting case in Wisconsin that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ballot initiative on redistricting could be one of four before voters on the 2018 ballot. Paperwork has also been filed for medical marijuana, Our Schools Now (a tax hike to pay for education), and supporters of "Count My Vote" (allowing candidates to signature gather and skip the caucus-convention system of political parties) have told FOX 13 they are looking at whether to file.