Legislative Redistricting Committee releases maps to swift controversy

Nov 7, 2021, 12:21 AM | Updated: 5:14 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature is expected to vote next week on new redistricting maps for the next 10 years.

It’s a heated topic for both sides of the aisle, especially after a late submission by Republican stakeholders Friday night.

The maps impact district boundaries for the Utah Legislature, State School Board, and Congress — with the congressional district map taking the most heat.

Four different maps have been submitted for consideration by the Legislature, and according to a professor at Brigham Young University, there is a mathematical way to determine the possible bias of each map.

The maps gives legislators four options for Utah’s congressional district boundaries for the next 10 years.

Three of the maps were submitted by Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission on Monday, Nov. 1.

The fourth was a last minute submission late Friday evening by the Republican-led Legislative Redistricting Committee.

Katie Wright, executive director of Better Boundaries Utah, is supporting the Commission’s submissions.

The group was behind 2018’s Proposition 4, which created an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process.

“We were incredibly impressed with the commission’s work. Everything they did was fully transparent,” said Wright. “Second, they were very, very attune to keeping incumbent and partisan data out of their process.”

When it comes to the Committee’s map, Wright has some reservations, including the committee’s consideration of incumbent’s addresses.

“I think it’s important to note those maps were drawn behind closed doors,” Wright said. “They have been very forthright that they are looking at incumbents and where incumbents live. We at Better Boundaries really don’t believe that redistricting is a job protection program for politicians.”

The Committee’s map would essentially split Salt Lake County into four congressional districts.

According to the Deseret News, Republican State Sen. Scott Sandall said their map will include rural and urban areas in every district.

“Rural Utah is the reason there is food, water and energy in urban areas of the state. We are one Utah, and believe both urban and rural interests should be represented in Washington, D.C. by the entire federal delegation,” he said.

Putting politics aside, Dr. Tyler Jarvis, a mathematics professor at BYU, put each of the four maps to the test.

Jarvis used a complex algorithm, that involves more than 100,000 possible blind maps and information from Utah’s previous elections, to predict various scenarios and voter preferences.

In setting the parameters for map boundaries, Jarvis said the blind maps don’t take political information into account, but consider the legislature’s desire to avoid county splits, when possible.

“We draw a large number of these maps, and after we’re done, we look at how each of the maps responds to each of ten most recent statewide elections. Some elections, the voters will vote more in favor of the Republicans, and sometimes, a stronger vote for the Democrats,” Jarvis said.

Based on that information, Jarvis said the model predicted one of the four Congressional Representatives elected will be a democrat every so often.

According to Jarvis, an unbiased map would reflect that possibility.

“If the maps being proposed behave like the large blind collection, then that would indicate that they were not unfairly favoring one party or another. Whereas, if they strongly favor one party much more than the blind maps do, then that shows something unusual going on,” he said.

According to Jarvis, all three of the Commission’s maps pass the test.

“We found that the Commission’s maps were fairly reasonable in the way they respond to different elections and differences in the elections,” he said.

However, Jarvis said the Committee’s map showed different results.

“The legislative committee’s map seems to be very strongly biased in favor of the Republican party, so it does not respond well to changes in voter preferences,” Jarvis said. “This map gives undue favor to the Republican party, which is something that was explicitly forbidden by the statute.”

In Jarvis’ opinion, if the legislature truly wants an unbiased map, they would give preference to the maps submitted by the Independent Redistricting Commission over the Legislative Redistricting Committee.

The legislature is expected to convene for a special session on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

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Legislative Redistricting Committee releases maps to swift controversy