SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time, Utah will have two paths to re-draw boundaries for congress, state legislature and school board.
The Utah State Legislature and a voter-approved independent commission are gearing up for redistricting in 2021, after U.S. Census data is released in April. The two entities will operate separately — each creating their own commissions; each holding their own public hearings across the state; each allowing the public to draw and submit their own maps; and each coming up with their own boundary maps.
Voters approved the anti-gerrymandering citizen ballot initiative Proposition 4 in 2018. Under a compromise with the legislature, the independent redistricting commission will have members appointed by the governor and legislative leadership that will include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated members. They'll submit up to three maps for congress, legislature and school board.
But constitutionally, the legislature has the final say.
"As we outlined in the compromise, they’re not required to accept our maps," said Noah Rosenberg, the acting director of Better Boundaries, which sponsored Prop. 4.
Still, the independent commission is meant to offer input for the tricky task of re-drawing boundaries and it can be a bully pulpit as supporters or opponents of a particular boundary proposal warn of gerrymandering.
"We’ll welcome any and all maps," the legislature's redistricting committee co-chair Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, told FOX 13 on Tuesday.
Sen. Sandall said public input will be vital as the legislature undertakes the effort of re-drawing boundaries. He said it even led to the current state school board districts.
"The state school board boundaries were actually submitted by an individual out of Cache Valley and they were pretty much what the legislature adopted," he said.
Both the legislature and Better Boundaries anticipate the biggest debates will be over congressional boundaries. In 2011, there were protests and fights over whether Utah's four congressional districts would slice the state up like a "pizza" or leave Salt Lake County as a "donut" and, as some claimed, create a Democratic stronghold district.
The pizza won out.
"First off, let me say I hope we choose different food analogies this go round," joked Rosenberg.
The independent redistricting commission's stated goals are to preserve cities and towns as whole as possible, to create districts with natural or man-made borders (like mountains or a freeway) and to keep communities of interest together.
But the idea of Salt Lake County being its own district is not likely to happen, said Rosenberg.
"Because Salt Lake County is so big, it’s almost a third of the population of the state, it’s really too big to fit in one district," he told FOX 13.
Sen. Sandall said the legislature's redistricting committee will have similar goals which will be adopted when it begins meeting in late spring or early summer. Likewise, he said they did not project U.S. Census data awarding Utah a fifth congressional district.
Sen. Sandall said they will rely on technology more than ever to allow Utahns to draw boundaries and submit their own proposals.
"I’m hoping we can do it without a fight. I’m hoping we can do it with calm and input," he said of redistricting. "Obviously, there will be many who disagree with whatever decision that is made. There is no map that makes 100% of the people happy."