Organizations update voters on Utah redistricting lawsuit
With the 2022 midterm elections in the rear-view mirror, Utah organizations have maintained their focus on the state’s congressional maps.
Mormon Women for Ethical Government, along with Better Boundaries and the League of Women Voters of Utah, held a cottage meeting at the Provo City Library on Saturday to discuss their efforts to replace the state’s congressional boundaries — approved by the Utah House and Senate — with a map put forward by the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission. Around 20 members of the community attended the meeting.
Kyle Friant, deputy director of Better Boundaries, discussed the last five years of redistricting in Utah, beginning with 2018’s Proposition 4 ballot measure. Called the Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative, the proposition sought to create an independent group to draw legislative district maps after the 2020 U.S. Census.
The proposition passed by just under 7,000 votes with 50.34% of people voting in support. During the 2020 general session, though, the Utah Legislature passed Senate Bill 200, which significantly limited the effectiveness of the proposition on the grounds that the margin for passage was slim.
“The fundamental problem here is that legislators are constantly going to look for an excuse to protect their own power. In this case, it was the margin for Proposition 4. If it had passed by 50 points, it would have been something else. And this is why the independence issue is so vital, because legislators are always going to find an argument to hold on and retain their own power in these situations,” Friant said.
The 2020 bill allowed lawmakers to keep their own redistricting committee, recommend maps to the full Legislature and do so without explaining their reasoning behind any boundaries. It also did not require the committee to adopt standards to draw their lines fairly, according to previous reporting.
In March 2022, the League of Women Voters and MWEG announced a joint lawsuit against the state, arguing that the map approved by the Utah Legislature was unlawfully gerrymandered.
The lawsuit, Friant explained, includes seven individual plaintiffs, several of whom are part of the two organizations. The individual plaintiffs and both groups are nonpartisan, boasting membership from Republicans, Democrats and independents.
In a video message, David Reymann, an attorney with Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless, recapped the last decade of U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding gerrymandering and different lawsuits targeting redistricting across the country.
As it stands, a trial is set for the end of May 2023 after the 3rd District Court judge in Utah in charge of the case, Diana Gibson, denied a motion to dismiss. Ahead of the trial will also be the discovery period during which “attorneys will be able to collect information, present an expert witness and then all of that will culminate in a trial.”
Attendees and speakers keyed on the discovery phase of the trial, with one person asking if they will learn who from the legislative committee, or outside it, drew the current map.
“The fact that we don’t know who drew the maps that are governing us for the next 10 years is really, like, a terrifying fact,” Friant said. “But that’s really the unanswered question is who drew those maps? And the fact that we don’t know the answer to this to that very vital question is an indictment of the Legislature’s process.”
Stefanie Condie, one of the individual plaintiffs and an MWEG board member, explained to the group why she personally signed on to the suit.
“The only reason the boundaries have been drawn the way they are, clearly, is because the powers that be wanted to dilute the voices of the residents of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County,” Condie said. “And the thing that really scares me and bothers me about gerrymandering is that, at its essence, it’s all about the abuse of power. It is the abuse of power for the purpose of aggregating more power.”