Every 10 years, following the completion of the U.S. census, the Utah Legislature takes on one of our most important tasks: drawing new boundaries for elections across our state.
With numerous variables to consider and dozens of regulations with which to comply, the redistricting process is a significant challenge under normal circumstances. But with critical census data delayed by the pandemic, the challenge is even more daunting this time around.
Despite a unique set of challenges, I am confident the work of the Legislative Redistricting Committee will be done in a way that establishes a fair and sensible foundation for elections over the next decade that is based on the principle of one person — one vote.
Between now and Thanksgiving, the 20-member committee (consisting of 13 members of the House of Representatives and seven senators, with a slightly higher representation of the minority party than exists in the Legislature today) will draft and consider hundreds of maps before finalizing recommendations for the boundaries of Utah’s four congressional districts, 29 state Senate districts, 75 state House districts and 15 State School Board districts.
Crafting the details of each district map is an arduous and complex process with numerous technical requirements that must be met. The recommendations will be presented to the full Legislature in November for debate and a final vote, and it all has to be done in time to allow candidates for public office to know what districts they are running for as they declare their candidacy in early 2022.
The entire process is on a compressed timeline thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the census and, subsequently, the delivery of essential data to the states. Utah is not alone in trying to make up for lost time. In a non-pandemic redistricting cycle, population data is delivered to the state in April; this time around it didn’t come until August 12. That means we have only three months to complete a process that is traditionally seven months.
Despite the condensed time frame, lawmakers are committed to conducting their work in a transparent manner incorporating as much public input as possible. Just last week, the Legislative Redistricting Committee held the first event of a 19-meeting, 14-city tour to help citizens understand the redistricting process and give input on boundary decisions impacting their communities.
A map drawing tool will be available for anyone who wants to try their hand at designing a map of their own and submitting it for consideration. The full public hearing schedule is available now at redistricting.utah.gov, where the mapping tool will be available next month.
This redistricting cycle includes a new element as the Independent Redistricting Committee will also provide maps for consideration. Established by the voters in 2018, this Legislature has appropriated the same level of funding for this group as the Legislative Redistricting Committee to enable them to provide three map recommendations for consideration by October 30. We look forward to reviewing their maps and considering their ideas as we undertake our constitutionally mandated duty to make the final map decisions.
To ensure the Utah redistricting process is fair and equitable, the Legislative Redistricting Committee does not take partisan data into consideration when drawing maps. While the numerous requirements for district maps make gerrymandering improbable, the committee has adopted additional procedural guidelines that further protect the public from the establishment of boundaries with the intention of favoring one party or group over another.
Political data will not be included on the redistricting software used by the public or the committee, nor will it be shown or discussed at Legislative Redistricting Committee meetings or with redistricting committee staff. Public trust is essential in a process so fundamental to our democracy.
No doubt, the next three months will be hectic for everyone involved with the redistricting effort. Compressed timelines add stress that can challenge our spirit of cooperation. Legislative leaders have made it clear, despite any challenges, our commitment is to work together to carefully analyze the census data and adopt maps that lay the best foundation for our elections and governance.
The people of Utah deserve nothing less.
Brad Wilson is the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives