Redistricting law approved by voters at risk, supporters say

February 21, 2020 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Supporters of a voter-approved independent redistricting effort say Republican lawmakers are ready to dismantle the measure aimed at combating gerrymandering.

They are considering stripping out a key provision: A ban on drawing districts purposefully to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party, a tactic known as gerrymandering, said Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former state representative and executive director of Protect Better Boundaries.

“The ban is the heart of Prop 4,” Chavez-Houck told the Salt Lake Tribune, referencing the plan that appeared on ballots as Proposition 4.

Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson argued lawmakers must make changes to bring the measure in line with the state constitution. He acknowledged that repeal is an option but said they haven’t settled on a course of action yet.

The legislature has already made significant changes to two other laws passed by voters in 2018: Medicaid expansion and legalization of medical marijuana.

“We don’t want to send a message that we don’t understand and hear what people are saying when they vote for those. But I think there also has to be an appreciation that we’ve got concerns about creating a lot of taxpayer liability and concerns related to the way that language was specifically written,” Wilson said, according to the Deseret News.

In the current system, the GOP-dominated Legislature passes redistricting plans by a majority vote, subject to a gubernatorial veto. Critics say that’s left the state with a congressional map that unfairly carves up Democratic Salt Lake City.

The redistricting effort narrowly passed by voters creates a seven-person commission. It would draw up maps for new congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 census. The state Legislature would then look them over and decide whether to approve them.

States will get the 2020 census results in spring 2021, triggering a mandatory once-a-decade redistricting for U.S. House and state legislative seats to account for population changes.