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Utah Gears Up For Redistricting As 2020 Census Approaches

Sign on sidewalk that says Vote Here with an American flag above the wording
Tamsen Maloy

With the 2020 United States Census approaching, the Utah State Legislature is preparing for the redistricting that comes with it. The legislature is responsible for creating congressional, legislative and school districts based on data from the census.

"The United States Supreme Court has said that every member of the population deserves equal representation," said John Fellows, general council member for the Utah State Legislature. "And it’s unfair to have a few people represented by one legislator and at the same time have a large number of people also represented by one legislator."

Fellows said redistricting based on population might not work for everybody, but it is the fairest option.

"We had a woman from Garfield County who came up and testified in front of the committee and said, ‘I’m a Democrat and I’ve been disenfranchised because I never have the opportunity to represent a Democrat.’ Well, that’s right. She never will have an opportunity to represent a Democrat because she is surrounded by Republicans and they will virtually always represent a Republican," Fellows said.

Alex Cragun is the executive director for the Utah Democratic Party. He said redistricting is an opportunity to change the political landscape in the state, and encourages Democrats in Utah to get involved at all levels.

"Run for city council, run for county commissioner, apply for a school board in your local area. We need you to be involved in order for us to make this state a more balanced Utah," Cragun said.

The upcoming November election will include a ballot initiative that, if it passes, would require a seven-member independent redistricting commission appointed by the governor and leading lawmakers to draw voting districts. Fellows said the Utah Legislature would have final district map approval.

"It’s hard to figure out a fair way," Fellows said. "Population seems a fair and objective way to distribute votes, but inevitably there will be winners and losers in that process."

Cragun said changing population in Utah means there's an opportunity for diversifying the political spectrum.

"There are opportunities across the state for us to be able to pick up speed and it’s a matter of us going and making sure people know that there is a Democratic Party in Utah," he said. "Ogden, Utah County, places like Summit County are growing in terms of population and the people moving into those areas are coming from historically progressive areas like California and Colorado. And we’re hoping to say, ‘Hey, welcome to the neighborhood. Come get involved here.’"

If the ballot initiative passes, the 2020 Census will be the first census used for Utah’s new method of redistricting.