(Getty/Jewel Samad)

Utah voters narrowly approve anti-gerrymandering reform

Utah becomes 4th state to reform gerrymandering this year after ballot initiative passes by 0.6 percent


Igor Derysh
November 22, 2018 12:34AM (UTC)

A proposition in Utah to create an independent redistricting commission to crack down on gerrymandering by lawmakers narrowly passed by less than 1 percent of the vote, a final vote tally concluded on Tuesday. 

The Deseret News reports that Proposition 4, called “Better Boundaries,” was approved by a 7,002-vote margin, roughly 0.68 percent of the vote. The proposition would create a seven-person commission that will be appointed by elected officials from both parties. The commission would recommend new district borders to reflect changes in the state’s population following every decennial census. The Utah state legislature will still have the final say over the district boundaries but would have to vote on the commission recommendations. The next round of redistricting will be in 2021, after the 2020 census.

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Along with the creation of the independent commission, the proposition also creates new limits on lawmakers’ ability to draw up their own districts, requiring them to minimize dividing counties, cities, and towns. The comes after Republican lawmakers split the more left-leaning Salt Lake City into three of Utah’s four districts to water down the Democratic vote.

“The voice of the people will once again be heard in drawing legislative lines — making sure Utahans choose their representatives and not the other way around," former Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Republican donor Jeff Wright said in a statement, adding that they "expect the voice of the people will be respected and honored."

The ACLU’s Utah chapter also issued a statement calling on lawmakers to abide by the results and “respect the will of 500,000 Utah voters and let the independent redistricting commission do its job."

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund complained that the move is "a cleverly disguised partisan plan" to favor Democrats despite the commission being bipartisan.

Utah is just one of the red and purple states where voters approved significant gerrymandering reform.

In Missouri, voters overwhelmingly backed Amendment 1, which creates a new constitutional amendment to create a “non-partisan state demographer” to set district boundaries and will require the state to implement a statistical test to make sure the boundaries are fair.

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In Michigan, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that will create an independent citizen redistricting commission that will set the boundaries for both legislative and congressional districts after Republican gerrymandering helped the party dominate all three branches of government. The commission, which will be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and five independents, must approve any state redistricting plan for it to take effect.

In Colorado, voters approved a 12-member bipartisan commission to take redistricting power out of the hands of state lawmakers and will require new districts to be “competitive” and have "a reasonable potential for the party affiliation of the district's representative to change at least once" every census.

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More action on gerrymandering may be coming.

Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who specializes in redistricting, told Wired that Maryland’s and North Carolina’s redistricted maps are likely to be ruled on by the Supreme Court, which previously declined to rule on Wisconsin’s gerrymandered map, though the court is not expected to ban the partisan gerrymandering outright.


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a New York-based political writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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2018 Midterm Elections Anti-gerrymandering Utah

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