HJR 1 Joint Rules Resolution on Redistricting Standards
HJR 1, introduced by Rep. Merrill F. Nelson, passed the House Government Operations Committee with a favorable recommendation; it is now scheduled on the House 3rd Reading calendar.
HJR 1 enacts rules, principles, and procedures to guide the Legislature during the process of redrawing district boundaries. This resolution would restrict the ability to draw unusual and unfair district boundaries in order to split or pack populations to alter voter impact, inevitably electing a delegate in favor of the party who drew the lines. This practice is commonly known as “gerrymandering,” and many feel that it has influenced redistricting here in Utah.
What happens without redistricting guidelines? This undemocratic gamesmanship has played out in numerous districts around the nation, cheating large portions of the electorate out of fair representation. North Carolina has had one of the worst histories of alleged gerrymandering, suppressing predominantly African-American communities. Multiple Supreme Court justices and lower-court justices have argued the unconstitutionality of the N.C. districts. The United States District Court in North Carolina recently ruled the state had to redraw all 28 district boundaries. Wisconsin also recently received judicial scrutiny for gerrymandering its district boundaries. Hopefully these court rulings will spur other states and courts to closely examine the effects that unfair redistricting has on proportional representation.
First and foremost, we support HJR 1 because it would create rules that would help ensure Utah State Senate and House districts are drawn with the goal of achieving fair and proportional representation. These include provisions directing that boundaries be contiguous and compact. They also direct the legislature to draw boundaries according to existing county and municipal boundaries, and to ensure that there is substantial equality of population between each district. These principles and procedures will hopefully diminish the possibility that our state districts are gerrymandered.
We also support HJR 1 because the resolution would create a stated set of rules, procedures, and principles by which constituents could hold their legislators accountable during the next redistricting process in 2021. If representatives and senators do not follow any of the rules set up through this resolution, constituents would be able to demand they explain why any particular rule was not followed.
However, we at Better Utah believe this resolution could be stronger to ensure more democratic representation for Utahns of all demographics. We would like to see additional provisions added that explicitly prohibit the use of electoral or partisan data during the redistricting process. We believe this would give Utahns even more assurance that they are being fairly represented, and that legislators are not drawing districts in ways that protect their chances of being reelected. We will also continue advocating for the legislature to create an independent advisory redistricting commission to advise the legislature on what constitutes fair and proportional boundaries.
Nevertheless, we believe HJR 1 constitutes a good first step as we approach 2021 and the next opportunity we have to gain fairer representation in our state legislature. If you do too, we encourage you to email, text, or tweet your representatives and senators to encourage them to support this resolution!
HB 411 Redistricting Amendments
This bill would have established a bipartisan redistricting advisory commission that would enact redistricting provisions for the Legislature, U.S. House, and State School Board and provide recommendations for new district boundaries. Additionally, the redistricting amendments would provide a public hearing conducted by the commission.
HB 411 would essentially hinder the ability for the GOP-controlled Legislature to unfairly alter district boundaries, adjusting the voting results to favor their party.
The GOP-majority House Rules Committee has placed a hold on the bill, preventing a hearing this session and effectively killing it.