ST. GEORGE — Every 10 years the Utah Legislature is required to redraw legislative, congressional and school board district boundaries to reflect changes in population recorded by the U.S. Census. The process of redistricting is a little different this year, however, as lawmakers work with a condensed timetable while also taking input from newly formed independent redistricting commission.
Like so much else during 2020, the redistricting process was delayed due to COVID-19. What usually takes up to nine months to be accomplish has to be done in around six weeks this year, said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who co-chairs the Legislative Redistricting Committee with Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton.
“During regular circumstances, redistricting can be a long and arduous process,” Ray said in a June press release from the Legislature. “Because of this accelerated timeline, the public’s involvement and input will be crucial to our success. I look forward to visiting communities and meeting with Utahns as we move into the next phases of our redistricting process.”
The redistricting itself is the process of balancing populations between the various legislative districts, Rex Facer, chairperson of the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, told St. George News in a telephone interview Thursday. The commission will aid the committee in its public input efforts and provide recommendations on new district boundaries.
As places like Utah and Washington counties have seen continuing growth over the last decade, they will likely be subject to redistricting and possibly even the creation of new legislative and school board districts, Facer said.
“We’ll have to reshape the districts,” he said.
As for public input, the committee will be holding a series of public town halls across the state once U.S. Census data is made available in August. In addition to participating in public meetings, all Utahns are encouraged to visit the redistricting committee’s website and use the map drawing tool to create and submit maps for the committee to review.
“As lawmakers, we are accountable to Utahns and committed to upholding the public process,” Sandall said in the June press release. “Public input is essential for redistricting. As individuals voted into office, we have a vested interest in the feedback and views of our constituents. We want to understand your perspectives and amplify your voice throughout this process.”
The committee is aiming to keep the process as open and transparent as possible, the press release states. As a part of this, committee meetings will have a virtual option for those who cannot attend in person. People will be able to watch the meetings via the committee’s website.
The committee also has a YouTube channel. So far it has two videos posted explaining the redistricting process.
The increased push for transparency in the process is good to see, Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George said.
“I think this opens it more to the public,” Brooks said, adding that, while the process is already opened to the public, sometimes it doesn’t always seem that way on the surface. “It’s one step of transparency.”
The Legislative Redistricting Committee is comprised of 20 Republican and Democrat state representatives and senators. Representing Southern Utah on the committee are Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George and Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane.
As mentioned above, the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission will be aiding the legislative committee in the redistricting process.
“Historically the Legislature has handled the process from start to finish,” Facer said, adding the commission itself is the result of a 2020 compromise between the Legislature and supporters of a successful 2018 ballot initiative known as Proposition 4.
In addition to Facer, who was appointed as the commission chair by Gov. Spencer Cox, six others sit on the commission and were chosen by both Republican and Democrat state lawmakers. Among them are former Utah Supreme County Justice Christine Durham and former Congressman Rob Bishop.
The commission will be collecting public input through various means, such as attending the many town hall meetings set to be launched later this summer. Commission staff will also visit various community events across the state to engage with the public, Facer said.
“The important thing we want the public to know right now is that we want their input,” he said.
The independent commission also has a website where the public can draw their own proposed districts and outline “places of interests” on a map. As Utah law doesn’t allow for closed-door map creation, people will be able to watch online as the commission draws up boundaries through the commission website and YouTube channel.
Though the commission is acting in an advisory position and it is ultimately left to the legislative committee to determine what the new district boundaries may be, Facer said he is confident the committee will take the commission’s recommendations into consideration and will not outright ignore them.
Public hearings and town halls on redistricting are slated to begin Aug. 18 and run through mid-November when the independent commission delivers its recommendations to the legislative commission for review. From there, a special session of the Legislature is expected to be held before Thanksgiving to adopt the final boundaries, and the governor will then either approve or veto the new legislative maps in December.
“Redistricting impacts everything from congressional districts and school boards to community growth,” Facer said in a statement issued earlier this month. “We want to hear from all Utahns and what they think are their communities of interest that should be recognized throughout the redistricting process, as they know their own communities best.”
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