Utah redistricting committee starts studying boundary maps

Aug 19 2011 - 2:35pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers redrawing Utah's congressional and legislative boundaries are sifting through more than 200 maps submitted by state residents through an online mapping tool, looking for ideas and trends that will shape their final redistricting proposal.

The redistricting committee's meeting Friday at the state Capitol is the start of a month-long process to formally develop the election boundaries that will be in place for the next decade.

The online mapping tool has been an important way for committee members to gauge public opinions and to encourage participation in what is a very complex process, said committee co-chairman Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.

"It's given people a good understanding of the process and the concept of one person, one vote," Okerlund said. "They understand population really drives the maps."

Although it's doubtful any one map submitted through the redistricting website will be used for the final proposal, members will likely retain elements of many maps, Okerlund said. A final map will be given to the full Legislature by the committee for approval later this year. It will define the boundaries for districts until the next Census.

Drawing a map is a very time-consuming and challenging process, even if it's just the four congressional districts. Kelli Lundgren, the co-chair of Represent Me Utah, said it took her nearly 12 hours to draw a map that has one congressional district centered on the urban, and generally more liberal, Salt Lake City area.

That proposal is commonly called the "doughnut hole," and polls have shown that a majority of Utah residents prefer to have at least one district that is mostly urban. Currently, Utah's three congressional districts -- the state gained one district because of population growth in the 2010 Census -- divide Salt Lake City and have both urban and rural voters.

Lundgren said how much weight lawmakers give to her proposal, and other maps with a similar design, is the primary gauge for many people about the value of the online mapping tool and statewide public hearings the committee held earlier this year. The fear, however, is that the committee will draw maps that protect incumbents and create more safe Republican districts in a state already dominated by the GOP.

"We're trying to make it somewhat fair for those who aren't in the super-majority," Lundgren said.

Currently, Utah's redistricting is handled by legislators. But the Utah Citizen's Counsel, which submitted congressional and state Senate maps, has been pushing for a non-partisan committee to draw the boundaries.

Their maps are meant to serve as proof that the process can be done in an apolitical way, co-chair Dee Rowland said.

"We haven't looked at anyone's residential address or election data," Rowland said. "We don't know how, for example, our legislative maps affect incumbents or parties."

 

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