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Opinion: Minorities are growing in Utah and deserve representation

Get involved in the redistricting process to make sure new political boundaries are fair and provide equal representation

Apartments and town houses on Traverse Mountain Boulevard in Lehi are pictured on Aug. 11, 2021.
Apartments and town houses on Traverse Mountain Boulevard in Lehi are pictured on Aug. 11, 2021. New census numbers show Utah was the fastest growing state over the last decade. Also, its minority population is growing quickly.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Redistricting happens infrequently — only once every 10 years, closely following the U.S. census.

The 2020 census revealed several notable changes to Utah’s demographics, and if districts are drawn with integrity, new districts should reflect these changes in demographics and population growth to give equal representation to citizens.

Utah’s Latino population grew by almost 38%, and Latinos now make up 15% of Utah’s population. It is important that these citizens have equal representation; legislators should carefully consider the impacts boundary changes will have on minority citizens and each citizen’s freedom to elect officials who best represent their communities.

The redistricting process also impacts how resources are reinvested to best support communities. Changes in the population growth experienced throughout the state have revealed a new lineup of the top 10 most populous cities. This has major implications for political representation for Utah residents in these cities and elsewhere, and these changes should be reflected appropriately in the new mapping.

This standard for reapportionment is established in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and the process Utah follows is outlined in more detail in the Utah Constitution. So much rests on its results, not the least of which is the promise of equal and fair representation by elected officials at every level of government.

Redistricting impacts who represents each of us in Congress and the state Legislature, and who we get to vote for on the state school board. Fair maps ensure each voter gets fair and equal representation, protect the public’s interest, and ensure elected officials are accountable to voters for their actions.

Utahns voted to create an independent commission, and our elected officials should be held accountable to that vote. More than half a million Utah voters supported Proposition 4 in 2018 to establish the independent redistricting commission.

The Legislature already passed a compromise bill in 2020, which was negotiated with Better Boundaries and received broad bipartisan support.

Ultimately, the Legislature is responsible for adopting the redistricting results, but in the limited timeframe of the legislative session, and considering a further restricted timeline to draw the redistricting maps due to delayed 2020 Census results, it is a political imperative to rely on the help and expertise of the independent commission.

The commission has been structured to be balanced, transparent, impartial and fair, so as to avoid the appearance or reality of partisan gerrymandering. And as a voter-established commission, they are gathering input from the public throughout the state to create fair maps that best represent constituents and their communities.

This invaluable public feedback and outreach should consequently inform the Legislature’s process; however, because the Legislature has the option to choose from among multiple map options, it is possible that they could entirely ignore the input of the commission, disregarding the will of the voters to whom legislators are ultimately responsible.

To not seriously consider the commission’s recommendations is also a tremendous waste of the $1 million in taxpayer money that voters backed to fund the commission. The Legislature needs to be held accountable to both the people’s voices and this use of taxpayers’ dollars.

Why should we care about this issue? Fair districting promotes equal representation under the law, including protecting the rights of the minority. Partisan gerrymandering harms our democratic institutions and diminishes the importance of individual voices. It allows elected officials to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their elected officials. It increases polarization and distorts representation. It can reduce voter faith in our systems and increase cynicism.

As citizens of Utah, we believe it is in our state’s best interest to pay attention to this once-in-a-decade process. Reach out to your state legislators, particularly the members of the Legislative Redistricting Committee, and ask them to consider in earnest the input of the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission. The commission is doing the challenging work of assessing communities of interest, receiving input from residents throughout the state, and evaluating the census data to formulate multiple sets of maps.

Surely this effort can inform the Legislature’s selection process, rather than the Legislature reinventing the wheel on a time crunch and at the expense of taxpayer funds and voters’ participation in the process. We urge Utah citizens to remain engaged in the process by attending and giving comments at one of the commission’s public hearings or the Legislature’s public hearings happening now around the state.

Laura Lewis Eyi is a Utah Legislative Committee member for Mormon Women for Ethical Government. Elizabeth VanDerwerken is the Utah chapter co-lead for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.