Starting some time today, there is a new state Senate web site to help Utahns have input to the already-controversial redistricting of the state’s four congressional districts, legislative and State School Board districts.
The new site is the brainchild of Ric Cantrell, the chief deputy of the Senate – a partisan, appointed position.
Cantrell has made quite a name for himself implementing new technologies and the Internet.
Unfortunately, despite all the hope and work, the Legislature’s citizen map-drawing program is not up and running yet.
Cantrell and legislative staffers say state attorneys are still haggling with the site provider over the cost and what will be provided.
When it is up, however, anyone will be able to draw their own maps – using the Census guideline numbers for each district.
While sophisticated map-drawing software was used in the 1991 and 2001 redistricting process, only legislators and their staffs could use that system.
While the lawmakers already have their own map-drawing system up and running, that is a separate, private operation.
The citizen-drawing program will not directly interface with the Legislature’s system. But legislators promise that all the maps drawn by citizens will be looked at one way or another.
(If thousands of citizens send in maps, the computer will gather like-drawn maps together, which for the sake of time may be reviewed by staffers rather than lawmakers themselves.)
In any case, legislators want citizens to participate in the difficult map-drawing process – so at least voters can see how hard it is to redraw the various districts without having to split up cities, counties and other areas of common interest.
As reported previously by UtahPolicy, even though the citizen map-drawing program is not yet up and running, lawmakers on the 19-member Redistricting Committee have already been drawing some state House and Senate district plans. You can read the members here.
At a Friday night meeting of the committee in Lehi, House committee chairman Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, suggested a four-seat Congressional plan as a starting point of discussion.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Sumsion’s plan calls for a complete House district taking in all of Utah County, and parts of southern Salt Lake County and some other rural areas.
Such a plan, of course, would give Utah County-based politicians the clear lead in holding that seat – politicians that include Sumsion, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, (who is also on the committee) and all other GOP legislators from Utah County.
But his plan is only a starting place, said Sumsion, and no decisions have yet been made.
Redistricting is one of the most intense, self-serving processes the Legislature does.
That’s become legislators are, in essence, picking their own voters, in the process.
A citizen imitative that would have set up an independent redistricting panel to make recommendations to the Legislature on the new boundaries failed to get the required number of voter signatures last year.
And several bills, sponsored by the minority Democrats in the Legislature, also setting up an independent redistricting commission have failed over the last several general sessions – the majority Republicans voting them down.
Thus, the 2011 redistricting process will be much like previous ones.
The difference, say GOP leaders, is that Utah citizens will, through the yet-to-be-available map-drawing Internet software, will be able to draw their own districts and submit them to lawmakers.
Legislators on the committee will hold 17 public meetings around the state to take citizen input, as well.
But GOP legislative leaders are already saying because some Democratic areas in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have grown at less of a rate than GOP areas in the county, state House and Senate districts must be shifted southward to account for population changes.
And that means some Democratic districts will likely have to be combined.
Sumsion says it’s clear to him that at least one Utah House seat in the Orem/Provo areas will likewise have to be combined with another GOP district in order to make up for the great population growth in the northern end of Utah County.
However, sources tell UtahPolicy, that one idea that Sumsion tried to float recently – that a new, open House seat be created in the Cedar Hills area of former Rep. Craig Frank, has for now been shot down.
Frank, as you may recall, had to resign his seat earlier this year when it was learned that he had moved out of his House District 57 boundaries by mistake. (The Utah County Clerk’s Office incorrectly told Frank several years ago that if he built his family a new home in a newly-approved subdivision, that lot would still be in the House 57 boundaries, when if fact it was not. Frank built the home, moved his family, only to later find he was out of the district.)
Frank is now considering what to run for in 2012 – whether for governor or some other higher office, or try to win a state House seat in the redrawn areas.
But any number of lawmakers will be reconsidering their political futures as both Congressional and legislative districts are redrawn in a special session later this year.
In any case, go to the new Senate redistricting site and browse around. When the map-drawing program finally comes up, you can get to it through the new site.