Who really cares about fair voting maps Blog Post

Who really cares about fair voting maps?

For weeks, two groups have been touring the state talking to the public about redistricting: the Utah Independent Redistricting Committee (UIRC) and the Legislative Redistricting Committee (LRC). 

They might be easy to confuse at first. On the surface, they seem similar. But it only took a few hours watching them in action to make their different philosophies clear. The UIRC is taking seriously the need for fair voting maps. The LRC seems focused on other priorities. 

The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission was created by the passage of Prop 4 in 2018 and amended by SB200 in 2020. Members include a professor, a former state Supreme Court Justice, a geographic information systems expert, and a variety of other former public and political officials.

They’ve been drawing draft maps for weeks. When they meet, they stream live on YouTube. Public comments on their maps were also repeatedly encouraged during the hearing I watched. They’re approaching their presentation to the legislature in November like the performance of a lifetime—studying, rehearsing, getting continual feedback.

Their meetings start with an explanation of the redistricting process and a tutorial on how to submit maps on their website. The UIRC is accepting not just full-state maps but also community-of-interest maps—way easier to build for anyone without a master’s in political science and a massive amount of free time.

The public hearing I watched in Roosevelt included repeated back-and-forth. For the most part, commissioners spent more time listening than talking. There were multiple follow-up questions to attendees’ comments. These were conversations. I saw the commissioners actively trying to learn from members of the public, and I’ve seen many indications commissioners have rethought their initial assumptions because of the voice of the people.

Then there’s the Legislative Redistricting Committee—made up entirely of elected lawmakers.

Submitting maps to the LRC is an ordeal. People have to draw the entire state of Utah—no communities of interest accepted here. Committee chair Scott Sandall (R) half-joked at the end of one public hearing that it takes “a leisurely 48 hours” to draw a full state map that the LRC will consider. 

At their public hearings, there’s a lot of lip service given to fair maps. But the tone is different. One of the standard disclaimers they give is an explanation of the legal reasons why, to avoid even the chance of unfairly using racial or ethnic census data as a primary consideration, they aren’t using it at all. A few comments shared by attendees were met with only short responses from the committee: thank you for your comment and don’t forget to sign your name. 

When the committee does engage in depth, as I’ve seen in other hearings, it often feels combative and defensive, not focused on learning and understanding. I’ve also heard committee members talk for several minutes about how difficult the process is. In a St. George hearing, Representative Candice Pierucci responded to concerns about partisanship by citing the small win margin for Proposition 4—as if that affects its legitimacy and the independent commission’s.

In many ways, the LRC is using their public hearings to be seen receiving comment, not to digest it. I’ve seen no indication that their idea of what voting maps should be has changed through this process.

To state it plainly: The UIRC is interested in community needs and fair voting maps. The LRC and the Republican-majority legislature that created it are interested in the status quo.

More than half of Utahns are sick of this. That’s why we voted yes on Prop 4. We’re sick of being told we would engage in the process if we just cared enough—those of us who have a spare 48 hours. We’re sick of being gaslit by partisan officials saying they’re here to listen when they’re really here to be seen listening. We’re not fooled by the pageantry.

Utahns deserve fair voting maps. The UIRC is taking that process seriously—even though their maps could ultimately be scrapped by the legislators who get to decide on our representation.

The LRC is only performing their seriousness. If they actually cared so much about fair maps and community representation, they’d be backing the UIRC at every turn. They’d be listening to the people doing the real work.

Amanda Wind Smith is the policy intern for Alliance for a Better Utah

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