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Democrats In Utah Could Gain A Bit More Power, If Redistricting Measure Passes


Democrats in the Republican stronghold of Utah could gain a bit more power if voters approve a ballot measure next week.

They're being asked to weigh in on a redistricting commission that would take the power to draw political lines away from lawmakers. Similar initiatives are on the ballot in Michigan, Missouri and Colorado.

Here's more about Utah's measure from Nicole Nixon of member station KUER.

NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: It's a quiet afternoon in Holladay, Utah, as cars zoom by the town square and people head to lunch. The wealthy Salt Lake suburb is home to just over 30,000 people. It's a peaceful place, but Catherine Kanter believes there's something sinister going on here - gerrymandering.

CATHERINE KANTER: Typically, a single state House seat would hold about 30,000 people. Holladay is split up into four state House seats, two state Senate seats and two congressional seats. That doesn't make any sense.

NIXON: Kanter, a Democrat, is the campaign manager for Utah's Proposition 4, which is being pushed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats. If voters approve it, Prop 4 would create a citizen-led commission to draw new political maps after the 2020 census. But lawmakers would still get final say on new boundaries.

If approved, the redistricting commission would, among other goals, have to keep counties and cities like Holladay as intact as possible.

Especially at stake are Utah's four congressional districts. In the 2011 round of redistricting, Salt Lake County, the state's most populous and where most Democratic voters live, was split into three congressional districts.

TODD WEILER: I think this is about the Democrats getting a seat in Congress, a guaranteed seat that they can't lose every election cycle.

NIXON: That's Republican State Senator Todd Weiler. He says it may be a conflict for politicians to draw their own districts, but it doesn't really bother him.

WEILER: In politics, some of the spoils go to the winners. And if you win enough elections and you have a majority, there are some advantages to that party.

NIXON: Typically, about 30 percent of Utahns vote Democrat in statewide elections - not enough for them to win many races, Weiler says.

WEILER: Could we draw a district that the Democrats would never lose? Yes. If we want to do political gerrymandering, that could be done.

BLAKE MOORE: This will not allow anybody To, quote, unquote, "gerrymander" anymore.

NIXON: Blake Moore is a Republican and co-chair of the Prop 4 campaign. I met him at a fun-run event called a Gerry-meander, where participants ran a 5K through four different state House districts in Salt Lake City.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: On your mark. Get set. Gerry-meander.

NIXON: Moore says the proposition would make Utah's redistricting process more transparent.

MOORE: Look to the framers of the Constitution. Our political system is for the people. This whole ballot initiative is simply to make it so politicians don't get to choose their voters, that voters actually choose our politicians.

NIXON: Republican supporters like Moore say an independent redistricting commission would force their party to be more responsive to voters. But not everyone's on board. Jesse Harris is voting no on Prop 4. He's a Republican and says while an independent commission sounds like a good idea, he's not so sure.

JESSE HARRIS: There's this idea that, you know, independence is automatically virtuous. And it doesn't necessarily mean that. You know, they're going to bring their own biases to the table. They're going to bring their own wants to the table.

NIXON: But for now, recent polls suggest the proposition will pass with the support of a large chunk of Republican voters.

For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Salt Lake City.


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