Guest op-ed: Fair districting and political power — Why I am suing the Utah Legislature
When I was on active duty in the U.S. Army 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, I determined that the principles of balance, transparency and fair representation were important to me. They mattered to me during my time in the service, and as a wife and a parent, and they guided me for the 30 years I worked as a CPA. These are the same principles that compelled me to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Utah Legislature, along with Mormon Women for Ethical Government, the League of Women Voters of Utah and other individual plaintiffs.
I believe we should have a congressional map that is created through a transparent process and promotes fair representation. Unfortunately, the legislative committee abandoned these principles when they adopted an extremely gerrymandered map.
I have been a resident of Utah most of my life. In 2010, my husband and I relocated to the downtown Salt Lake area to enjoy the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of the city. I live one block east of Temple Square, and I am very concerned about how the newly adopted maps split my community along Main Street into two different voting districts. I, and other Democrats, see this as a means to reduce the strength of our votes, discount our perspective, and impede our ability to elect a representative of our choice who is responsive to the needs of our unique community. When one political party — no matter which party that is — dominates through undemocratic practices, the balance that is important to healthy political discourse is threatened.
Throughout my life, I’ve learned the value of diverse opinions. I lived in England for several years, served as a senior missionary in Fiji and held many leadership roles during my professional career. In all of these contexts, I found that the best outcomes emerged from environments where every voice was valued, differences of opinions were respected and decisions were made in transparent ways.
This is what the majority of Utahns desired when they voted for Proposition 4, the ballot initiative that established nonpartisan map-drawing standards and created the Independent Redistricting Commission. I opposed its repeal in 2020 when the Legislature chose to disregard the well-researched, balanced recommendations of the independent commission. I am named as a plaintiff in the current lawsuit because the principles of balance, transparency and fair representation are as important to me in my role as an engaged citizen as they were in my service to my country, in my career as an accountant and as a civically minded parent.
This lawsuit has been filed to encourage our Legislature to follow the will of Utahns, who chose through Proposition 4 to exercise their “right to alter or reform their government as the public welfare may require,” granted clearly in our state’s constitution. Utahns were clear in our desire to have congressional districts that fairly represent our neighborhoods and communities. The redistricting process should not be exploited for personal or partisan gain, fracturing communities of interest in order to serve the political ambitions of our elected leaders. I hope this lawsuit serves to restore the people of Utah to their rightful place at the center of political power in our state. It’s the right thing to do.
Wendy Martin is a retired business professional, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. She lives in downtown Salt Lake City.