The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission held its second public meeting Tuesday evening and discussed the timeline and steps for changing the boundaries of Utah’s Congressional, legislative and state school board districts.
The independent redistricting commission, which was formed earlier this year as the result of a 2018 ballot initiative, will make recommendations for Utah’s political boundaries over the next decade.
The Tuesday evening meeting in Taylorsville took place a day after the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing Utah’s population grew by 18.4% over the past decade, bringing its population to about 3.28 million and making it the fastest growing state. Despite the rapid population growth, Utah did not earn another U.S. House seat.
The independent redistricting commission’s first meeting on April 13 was cut short due to a “Zoom-bomb attack” that included music with explicit lyrics, racist language and members of the public spamming the chat log pretending to be Russian hackers.
“We’re going to hope that the technical experts that we consulted keep us safe,” Rex Facer, chair of the commission, said at the start of the meeting.
Karen Hale, a former Democratic state senator, was sworn in as a member of the independent redistricting commission. She replaces former Democratic state Sen. Patricia Jones, who resigned earlier this month for personal reasons.
Hale said she looked forward to working on the commission and would make an effort “to ensure that we have a transparent, inclusive process.”
Jeffrey Baker, who was appointed to the commission by Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, shared a presentation about the struggles Davis County had during the 2011 redistricting process.
One of the issues was that the “new boundaries were forcing the creation of many zero-voter and low-voter precincts,” according to Baker, who added that “these new boundaries, in a few cases, crossed over private residences, which left us scratching our head as to which district we were going (to put the residences).”
As an example, Baker showed a map of a Kaysville neighborhood where the census block boundaries cut directly through a handful of homes.
“We’re going to come across issues,” he said. “We’re going to see lots of that.”
The issues encountered during the 2011 redistricting process were so vast that the Utah State Legislature had to pass multiple pieces of “clean-up” legislation correcting block assignments and boundary descriptions, according to Baker. In total, 411 corrections were made through legislation.
Baker, who noted that the 2011 redistricting process took approximately 10 months, recommended that the independent redistricting commission hold public hearings between now and the end of June and conduct the line-drawing process between July and October. The state Legislature would then convene in a special session in September and review the boundary recommendations.
Baker also recommended that the commission review the boundaries in the following order: Congressional, Senate, House and school board.
“That’s something I think would be very helpful for our commission here today, is to do it sequentially,” he said.
Another suggestion was for the commission to establish a review committee “to verify that the new redistricted boundaries, descriptions, local geographic features and resulting GIS data are all complementary.”
Following these suggestions would result in a “more orderly redistricting process” and eliminate zero or low-population precincts, as well as the need for “clean-up” legislation, according to the presentation by Baker.
Commissioner Lyle Hillyard, a former Republican state senator from Logan, said he believed it would be impossible to please everyone during the redistricting process, while Hale said she believed the public would be supportive if they believed the commission had made an effort to be transparent and seek public input.