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Overview: Utah Redistricting Reform Proposal (Utah Independent Redistricting Commission and Standards Act)

An overview of a ballot proposal to create an advisory redistricting commission in Utah.

Published: October 12, 2018

Utahans will vote this Novem­ber on a proposal submit­ted by the Better Bound­ar­ies Coali­tion that, if approved, would create a seven-member advis­ory redis­trict­ing commis­sion to draw Utah’s congres­sional, legis­lat­ive, and state school board district bound­ar­ies for consid­er­a­tion by the legis­lature begin­ning in 2021.

Key Features

What Maps the Advis­ory Commis­sion Will Draw

Congres­sional, state legis­lat­ive, and state school board districts for consid­er­a­tion by the legis­lature

Commis­sion Size

Seven members

How Commis­sion­ers are Selec­ted

Each of the follow­ing offi­cials appoints one member to the commis­sion:

  • The governor, whose appointee serves as chair of the commis­sion;
  • The speaker of the house of repres­ent­at­ives; 
  • The pres­id­ent of the senate;
  • The leader of the largest minor­ity polit­ical party of the house;
  • The leader of the largest minor­ity polit­ical party of the senate;
  • The lead­er­ship of the major­ity party in the senate and the pres­id­ent of the senate, jointly with the lead­er­ship of the same party in the house; and
  • The lead­er­ship of the largest minor­ity party in the senate jointly with the lead­er­ship of the same party in the house.

Under single-party control of the governor­ship and both cham­bers of the state legis­lature, this formula would result in a 4–1 split of appointees between the major parties. In addi­tion, there would be two members unaf­fili­ated with the major parties.

Who is Eligible to Be a Commis­sioner

Each commis­sioner must have been an active voter for at least four years prior to serving on the commis­sion. Addi­tion­ally, for four years prior to and four years follow­ing their terms, commis­sion­ers may not have been or be:

  • Lobby­ists or persons repres­en­ted by a lobby­ist;
  • Candid­ates or hold­ers of elect­ive office, includ­ing in local govern­ment;
  • Candid­ates for or hold­ers of any office of a polit­ical party, other than polit­ical party deleg­ate;
  • Recip­i­ents of compens­a­tion from a polit­ical party, polit­ical party commit­tee, personal campaign commit­tee, or polit­ical action commit­tee affil­i­ated with a polit­ical party or controlled by an elec­ted offi­cial or candid­ate, includ­ing in local govern­ment;
  • Appoin­ted by the governor or legis­lature to any other public office; or
  • Employed by Congress, the legis­lature, or hold any posi­tion that reports directly to an elec­ted offi­cial or any person appoin­ted into public office. 

The two commis­sion­ers appoin­ted by the lead­er­ship of the major­ity and minor­ity parties in the senate and their coun­ter­parts in the house may not have been affil­i­ated with either party, voted in either party’s muni­cipal or regu­lar primary elec­tions, or served as a deleg­ate to either party’s conven­tion.

All commis­sion­ers must file signed state­ments with the commis­sion and the governor veri­fy­ing that they meet the neces­sary qual­i­fic­a­tions, will comply with the require­ments for redis­trict­ing, will faith­fully enact their duties in an inde­pend­ent, impar­tial, honest, and trans­par­ent manner, and will not engage in any effect to delib­er­ately or unduly favor or disfa­vor any incum­bent, candid­ate, prospect­ive candid­ate, or polit­ical party. These state­ments will be made publicly avail­able.

How a Map Gets Approved

Plans That May Be Considered. The commis­sion may consider any redis­trict­ing plan submit­ted by a person or organ­iz­a­tion, includ­ing the commis­sion­ers them­selves. Any submit­ted plan shall be made avail­able to all the commis­sion­ers and the public. Upon the vote of three commis­sion­ers, a submit­ted plan will be assessed for compli­ance with redis­trict­ing criteria. This assess­ment will be promptly made publicly avail­able.

Recom­mend­a­tion of Plans to Legis­lature. To be recom­men­ded to the legis­lature, a plan must be approved by a least five commis­sion­ers. Commis­sion­ers may recom­mend up to three redis­trict­ing plans to the legis­lature. If no plans receive the requis­ite votes by the dead­line, the commis­sion will submit at least two plans—one suppor­ted by the commis­sioner appoin­ted by the lead­er­ship of the major­ity party of the senate and one suppor­ted by the commis­sioner appoin­ted by the lead­er­ship of the minor­ity party of the senate—to the Utah Supreme Court for consid­er­a­tion. The Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court will choose at least one plan from the submit­ted propos­als for refer­ral to the legis­lature.

Adop­tion of a Plan by Legis­lature. The legis­lature is not allowed to change or amend the commis­sion’s plan(s), other than to make tech­nical correc­tions. A redis­trict­ing plan or modi­fic­a­tion of a plan must be made avail­able to the public for at least ten days before the legis­lature votes on it.

If the legis­lature rejects the plan(s) recom­men­ded by the commis­sion and decides to enact its own plan, the legis­lature must issue a public writ­ten report describ­ing the reas­ons for reject­ing the commis­sion’s plan(s) and explain­ing why the enacted map better satis­fies the redis­trict­ing stand­ards and criteria.

The Rules That Must Be Followed in Draw­ing a Map

Basic Criteria. The commis­sion and the legis­lature, if it draws its own map, must use the follow­ing rules, listed in order of prior­ity, when draw­ing districts:

1. Comply with the U.S. Consti­tu­tion and federal laws such as the Voting Rights Act, includ­ing, to the extent required, achiev­ing equal popu­la­tion among districts;

2. Minim­ize the divi­sion of muni­cip­al­it­ies and counties across multiple districts;

3. Create geograph­ic­ally compact districts;

4. Create districts that are contigu­ous and that allow for ease of trans­port­a­tion through­out the district;

5. Preserve tradi­tional neigh­bor­hoods and local communit­ies of interest;

6. Follow natural and geographic bound­ar­ies, barri­ers, and features; and

7. Align the bound­ar­ies of differ­ent types of districts where possible.

Anti-Gerry­man­der­ing Provi­sions. The commis­sion and the legis­lature are prohib­ited from divid­ing districts in a way that purpose­fully or unduly favors or disfa­vors an incum­bent, candid­ate or prospect­ive candid­ate, or any polit­ical party. Addi­tion­ally, the commis­sion and the legis­lature are banned from consid­er­ing polit­ical data, includ­ing polit­ical party affil­i­ation, partisan elec­tion results, voting records, or the resid­en­tial addresses of incum­bents, candid­ates, or prospect­ive candid­ates while draw­ing the maps, unless it is neces­sary to comply with the other redis­trict­ing criteria, such as the Voting Rights Act.

Eval­u­ation of Map. The commis­sion and the legis­lature must use the best scientific and stat­ist­ical meth­ods, includ­ing meas­ures of partisan symmetry, to eval­u­ate compli­ance with redis­trict­ing stand­ards. Computer soft­ware and data concern­ing the plans must be made publicly avail­able so that the public has a mean­ing­ful chance to review the plans.

Public Input and Trans­par­ency

The commis­sion must hold at least seven public hear­ings in seven differ­ent regions of the state and cannot hold more than two hear­ings in the same county unless the county has a popu­la­tion between 125,000 and 700,000. The commis­sion must estab­lish and main­tain a website to share inform­a­tion about the commis­sion, proposed redis­trict­ing plans, and to allow the public to view commis­sion meet­ings and public hear­ings live and archived. The public must be able to submit redis­trict­ing plans for the commis­sion’s consid­er­a­tion and comment on proposed commis­sion plans through the commis­sion’s website.

Commis­sion­ers may not engage in any private commu­nic­a­tion with any person outside of the commis­sion without ensur­ing that the commu­nic­a­tion, or a descrip­tion of the commu­nic­a­tion, includ­ing the names of all the parties in the commu­nic­a­tion and the plan discussed, is made avail­able to the commis­sion and the public.

Timing

The governor and legis­lat­ive lead­ers must appoint their commis­sion­ers no later than thirty days follow­ing the legis­lature’s receipt of census data (gener­ally early in the year after the census). The commis­sion must complete public hear­ings by the 120th calen­dar day after the legis­lature’s receipt of census data or by August 31 of that year, whichever is earlier, and no later than 120 days after there is any change in the number of districts that results from an event other than the census enumer­a­tion.

The commis­sion must adopt a final plan or plans no later than 30 calen­dar days follow­ing the last public hear­ing. The commis­sion must submit its plan or plans to the legis­lature no later than ten days before the legis­lature votes on any redis­trict­ing plan. Final maps must be enacted during the first annual general legis­lat­ive session after the legis­lature receives census data.

Terms of Office

A commis­sion­er’s term concludes once a successor is appoin­ted.

Fund­ing

Commis­sion­ers are entitled to a per diem and will be reim­bursed for travel expenses. In addi­tion, the legis­lature is respons­ible for appro­pri­at­ing adequate funds for the commis­sion to fulfill its duties and make person­nel, facil­it­ies, equip­ment, and other resources avail­able as the commis­sion requests. The Office of Legis­lat­ive Research and General Coun­sel will provide the legal assist­ance, tech­nical expert­ise, computer equip­ment and soft­ware, and other resources to the commis­sion. The commis­sion has the contract­ing author­ity to retain the staff, legal coun­sel, computers, soft­ware, and other resources neces­sary to effect­ively carry out its duties.

Right to Sue

Resid­ents of Utah may bring suit to block use of a redis­trict­ing plan enacted by the legis­lature if they believe that the plan does not comply with the stand­ards in the Act.

A copy of the ballot proposal can be found here. A PDF version of this analysis can be found here

This proposal over­view is inform­a­tional and does not imply endorse­ment by the Bren­nan Center for Justice.