UTAH CITIZENS’ COUNSEL
The Utah Citizens’ Counsel (UCC) has partnered with other interested organizations throughout the state to provide recommendations to the Utah Legislature regarding the redistricting of congressional, legislative, and state school board seats. Partner organizations include the League of Women Voters, the Utah Education Association, AARP of Utah, the Fair Boundaries Coalition, and Utahns for Ethical Government. This redistricting process occurs every ten years, following the federal census, to reapportion political districts in accordance with the latest population figures so that districts remain as numerically proportional as possible, within a small range of deviation.
Reapportionment is the constitutional responsibility of the Legislature, and state law imposes no limits on legislative prerogatives. As a result, the process is prone to political considerations, including the imposition of political advantage or disadvantage for certain persons or parties. To minimize politicization of the process and protect the interests of voters, the UCC and its partner organizations have chosen to offer their own redistricting plans as models to guide and assist the Legislature. These independent plans are based not only on numerical parity, but on traditional principles of compactness, contiguity, communities of interest, local representation, recognition of natural and political subdivision boundaries, and so forth. Most importantly, these plans are drawn without regard to past voting patterns, political affiliation, or political advantage of any person or party. Rather, they are drawn in a purely objective manner to achieve the ultimate objective of fair and proportional representation of all citizens in the political arena. While no redistricting plan rates a “perfect” score on all principles under consideration, and some plans rate higher on certain principles than others, each plan is based on principle and rationality rather than politics.
CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING PLAN
This is the first election cycle in history that Utah will have four congressional seats. The UCC and its partner organizations here present four alternative plans for Utah’s congressional districts. The four plans presented for consideration each satisfy the requirement of numerical parity mandated by federal constitutional law, approximately 690,970 residents per district (state population divided by four). They also endeavor to implement the governing principles listed above, giving different emphasis to various principles in each plan. The four alternative plans are presented here without preference for any particular plan. We seek public comment on each of the plans so that they may be revised and improved to the fullest extent possible. We will then present the revised alternative plans to the Legislature ranked in order of public preference. We trust that the Legislature will give fair and honest consideration to these proposals as it formulates its own redistricting plans. Most importantly, these plans will provide a template by which the citizens of this state may judge the fairness of any plan proposed by the Legislature.
The drawing of Utah’s congressional districts is determined in large part by the treatment of its two most populous counties, Salt Lake and Utah. Only Salt Lake County, with a population of 1,029,655, has more residents than required for one congressional district, and must therefore be divided. Utah County, with a population of 516,564, just under the number required for one district, is centrally located and may therefore be joined with other counties in almost any direction to form another district. However, Utah County will be dominant in any district to which it is attached. Accordingly, the threshold decisions for any congressional realignment are 1) how to divide Salt Lake County, and 2) how to pair Utah County. The remaining lines follow naturally, based on the contiguity and population of the other counties.
These plans are drawn without regard to the political make-up of the proposed districts, the residence of current congressmen, or the residence of potential office-seekers. In fact, federal law does not require that a member of Congress reside in the district from which that person is elected. While residence within a district is probably an advantage, Utah presently has a Congressman residing outside his district.
One theory of plan composition favors mixing urban, rural, and other interests so that each district reflects something of the whole state. Another theory favors separation of urban and rural interests. All the plans endeavor to keep county boundaries intact to the extent possible. Various principles and interests are accorded a different combination of emphasis in the following alternative plans.