Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot

Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot
© Getty Images

A proposal to overhaul the way Utah draws its political boundaries appears likely to qualify for the November ballot, after supporters turned in nearly 150,000 signatures to state officials.

The measure, dubbed Better Boundaries, would create an independent commission to draw district lines every 10 years, following the decennial Census. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Today, district maps are drawn by the state legislature. But if the measure passes, it would hand power to draw the maps to the seven-member commission, five of whom would have to sign off on any new map to advance it. The approved map would go first to the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and then to the legislature for approval or rejection.

The commission’s members would be appointed by the governor and both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. The final two members would be unaffiliated with either political party.

Supporters say the measure will lead to more compact districts that keep communities of interest together. They turned in 149,787 signatures this week, far more than the 113,000 required to make it to Utah’s ballot.

“Utahns agree that the people should choose their elected officials, politicians shouldn't choose their voters,” said Catherine Kanter, who is managing the Better Boundaries campaign. “This initiative will make sure that city and county borders are respected and that the people's needs are put first when drawing our districts. Utahns of all political parties have stepped forward to support this initiative and we are confident it will be successful in November.”

Utah’s current district map, drawn after the 2010 Census, divided parts of Salt Lake City between several congressional districts. At the time, then-Rep. Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonTrump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot Trump's budget targets affordable, reliable power MORE (D) complained that Republican legislators had carved up the heart of his district, intent on knocking him off.

Matheson won reelection in a new district in 2012, but he decided not to seek another term in 2014. That year, Rep. Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LovePregnant and imprisoned: The crisis thousands of women are facing Election Countdown: What to watch in final primaries | Dems launch M ad buy for Senate races | Senate seats most likely to flip | Trump slump worries GOP | Koch network's new super PAC GOP lawmaker to refund some donations FEC says were raised improperly: report MORE (R) took his seat.

Heavily conservative Utah’s congressional delegation is made up entirely of Republicans. Republicans control 24 of 29 seats in the state Senate, and 62 of 75 seats in the state House.

Utah is one of a handful of states where voters will decide whether to overhaul the redistricting process in November. Initiatives in Michigan and New Mexico have already qualified for the November ballot. Another proposal in Colorado is being tested in the courts.

Earlier this week, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure creating their own independent commission to draw boundary lines.

Utah could become the eighth state to adopt an independent commission. Ohio this week joined Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington, which all draw boundary lines via commission rather than through the legislature.

- Updated at 4:24 p.m.