Utah legislative redistricting process begins

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Already considered a Republican stronghold, Utah’s redistricting process that began Monday will further strengthen the GOP and could force multiple legislative incumbents into the same districts. Based on the census numbers released earlier this year, the resulting election maps will have more districts in Utah and Washington counties as well as Salt Lake City suburbs, said Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork. All of those areas are traditionally dominated by Republicans and grew at rates that far outpaced average statewide growth. Most Democrats, meanwhile, are elected from Salt Lake City, which grew slowly and will force some consolidation of districts. The same applies to Provo and Orem, two of the state’s other largest cities, Sumsion said. “When you look at the numbers, there are seats that will have to move,” he said. While committee members focused the first meeting on their goal for a fair and transparent process, Sumsion cautioned even the best intentions will have political implications. Lawmakers has taken steps to involve taxpayers, such as scheduling public hearings around the state and an online program where people can draw their own maps and submit them. The only requirement is people have to do a statewide map because “it’s very easy to draw one district,” said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. The Legislature has been criticized since 2001 for gerrymandering, especially by Democrats angry about Salt Lake City being divided by the three congressional districts. Susan Conner, the vice-chairwoman of a group pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting process called Represent Me Utah, said incumbents shouldn’t dictate boundaries. “I do believe there was gerrymandering” in 2001, she said. “In an effort to not have any of that happen again, it would seem like it would be wise to focus on numbers, not politics.” Removing politics completely from the process will be difficult, but committee members need to ensure they are not protecting their friends, said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City. “People will start working you over if they know you’re drawing lines to help people,” said Rep. Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake City. “I would suggest looking out for the public … and not getting into the mess of the buddy system.”

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