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Independent redistricting commission presents maps to the Utah legislature

Posted at 8:09 PM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 18:02:12-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The voter-created commission tasked with drawing political boundaries for congress, legislature and state school board finally presented its maps to the Utah State Legislature.

But lawmakers are under no obligation to accept them, and the chair of the legislature's own redistricting committee suggested one of the maps may have been tainted with political bias. The Independent Redistricting Commission defended its maps as having gone through a rigorous test focused on keeping communities together and keeping politics out of it.

"Bipartisanship is possible. Fair maps are possible," said retired Judge William Thorne, a member of the commission.

The commission said its maps paid no attention to how elections would turn out.

"Had we gotten to partisan politics, we never would have completed it," said former state senator Lyle Hillyard.

Every 10 years, the boundaries for who represents people in congress, legislature and school board are redrawn based on updated U.S. Census population numbers. Voters in 2018 passed Proposition 4, which created the independent redistricting commission, to combat accusations of gerrymandering where lines are drawn to favor one party over another. But the Utah State Legislature has the final say and could completely disregard the work of the commission.

The independent commission submitted 12 maps in total — three each for congress, Utah House of Representatives, Utah State Senate, and Utah State School Board boundaries. One of the maps for congress was designed by a member of the public, whom the commission chose over a map they created. That sparked some fireworks when committee co-chair Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, challeged the map.

"This map was drawn on a tool that included political bias," he said, noting the way the map was created.

Rex Facer II, the chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission, said it still passed their independent tests for fairness. Stuart Hepworth, who created the map, also defended it to the commission.

"It was chosen because it outperformed the [commission's] map in every single criteria except preserving the cores of prior districts," Hepworth said.

The independent commission's maps for congress have been controversial. Last week, former congressman Rob Bishop abruptly quit the commission, blasting their maps for being too "metro-centric" and not considering rural interests enough. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, has also criticized the commission's congressional maps.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Sen. Sandall defended his remarks.

"It’s not a pure process that some have indicated it is. There’s bias in every map line you draw," he said.

Public comment during Monday's meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of the Independent Redistricting Commission's maps.

"I continue to be amazed at the public support we have and the support for the work of the commission," Facer told FOX 13.

So far, the public has not seen the legislature's redistricting committee maps. Committee co-chair Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, said they hope to have the legislature's maps out by the end of the week for the public to review. Those maps have not been drawn in as public of a process as the independent redistricting commission, which live-streamed and solicited thousands of public comments on boundaries and communities.

Katie Wright, the executive director of Better Boundaries, which sponsored Prop. 4, said the public can still pressure the legislature to accept the Independent Redistricting Commission's maps.

"The most important thing right now? Call your legislator, send them an email," she told FOX 13.

You can review the maps and submit comments here.

View the proposed maps below: