Poll: Utahns support independent redistricting commission ballot initiative

A majority of Utahns favor the idea of a bipartisan/independent commission redrawing U.S. House and legislative boundaries every 10 years, a new UtahPolicy.com poll finds.

A group calling itself Better Boundaries has filed a citizen initiative petition with the state Elections Office and is now in the process of collecting 113,000 voter signatures to get their petition before voters in 2018.

UPD pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 57 percent of Utahns support such a bipartisan/independent redistricting commission.

22 percent oppose such a redistricting commission.

And 20 percent don’t know.


A number of states already have such commissions, in one form or another. And so far courts have ruled them legal, even though various state constitutions say their legislatures will ultimately redistrict every 10 years after a federal Census.

The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a critical appeal over whether North Carolina’s redistricting – one of the most gerrymandered in recent history – can take partisan political allocations into account in drawing new U.S. House districts.

Jones finds that even Utah Republicans favor a bipartisan/independent commission to redistrict, rather than leaving it up to just the GOP-controlled Utah Legislature.

Look at these demographic breakouts:

— 50 percent of Republicans favor such a redistricting commission, 28 percent oppose it, and 22 percent don’t know.

Democrats and independents realize that recent GOP-controlled redistricting is not good for them:

— 77 percent of Democrats want a bipartisan/independent commission, only 10 percent are opposed and 14 percent don’t know.

— 62 percent of political independents want such a commission, 19 percent oppose it, and 20 percent don’t know.

— And those who told Jones they belong to a third party – like Greens or Libertarians – also want one: 53 percent support such a commission, 26 percent oppose, and 20 percent don’t know.

In fact, Jones finds the only group split over such a commission are those who self-identified that they are “very conservative” politically.

This folks likely know they are a minority in Utah politics, but realize the Republican-controlled Legislature is giving their votes extra weight in the way districts are drawn:

— 35 percent of “very conservative” Utahns favor such an independent commission, 33 percent oppose it, and 32 percent don’t know.

Those who said they are “somewhat conservative,” favor the independent commission, 59-24 percent; moderates favor it, 61-24 percent; “somewhat liberals” favor it, 76-13 percent; “very liberals” favor it, 82-2 percent.

Decade after decade, the GOP-controlled Legislature has drawn U.S. House and legislative districts that favor Republicans – especially Republican incumbents in the state House and Senate.

In essence, GOP state lawmakers pick their own voters, before those voters get a chance to vote on the incumbents.

Two different times former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson’s district has been redrawn to politically disadvantage him.

Finally, after the 2011 redistricting, Matheson actually jumped out of his 2nd District and ran (and won) in the newly-drawn 4th Congressional District.

But after winning a close re-election in 2012, he retired from the House. And Republican Rep. Mia Love has won two elections there, afterwards.

Assuming the governor is a Republican and the state House and Senate are controlled by Republicans (a pretty good guess), then from the 7-member redistricting commission, three would be appointed by Republicans (the governor and Senate and House GOP leaders), two by Democrats (minority House and Senate), and two would be independents appointed by the Senate/House Republicans together and the Senate/House Democrats together.

It would take five votes (not a majority of four) for the commission to adopt any redistricting plan. Thus, you would need some Democratic or independent votes to approve a plan.

If the commission can’t get five votes, then at least one, or two, or three plans MUST be given to the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, who in turn will pick one and send it to the Legislature.

Now, the Legislature doesn’t have to adopt that plan. But it can’t amend that plan, just vote it up or down.

But if it does vote it down, then the Legislature has to within 10 days of voting provide a detailed reason why that plan doesn’t meet the petition guidelines.

And if the Legislature adopts an alternative plan, likewise it must give detailed reasons why its plan meets the petition law BETTER than the commission’s plan.

And here’s the key, any citizen can sue the Legislature in an attempt to show that the Legislature’s alternative IS NOT better than the commission’s plan.

And the Legislature has to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, and any expert witness fees, if the Legislature loses in court.

This is a huge disincentive for the Legislature to vote down the commission’s plan and adopt one of their own.

The commissioners have to follow a bunch of rules to ensure their recommended boundaries are nonpartisan – like they can’t take into account the political voting of areas, or where an incumbent or candidate lives and such — but one interesting requirement is this: If any commissioner has a private conversation with ANYONE concerning this process, they have to file a public accounting of that private conversation within days of it taking place.

So, a commissioner can’t have a secret conversation with a U.S. House member, or party boss, or legislator, or anyone else, about redistricting. All details of such conversations must become public quickly.

Can you imagine if all private lobbying conservations with the governor, his top staff, or legislators had to be made public soon after taking place? Wow!

But that’s what applies to the seven commissioners if this petition passes into law.

Most likely, to avoid having to make all private conversations public, commissioners would just tell anyone wanting to talk to them about redistricting to file a public letter or document with the commission as a whole – and thus avoid any private conversations at all.

Jones finds one final interesting demographic in his poll:

— It has been clear for years that Salt Lake City and County – the largest city and county in the state, and each of which have pockets of Democratic voters – have been mistreated in U.S. House redistricting.

While one U.S. House seat could easily fit within the county – and the city, kept whole, could be the heart of one district — the city and county have been split up for more than 40 years – with no single U.S. House seat there.

Now Jones finds that 65 percent of Salt Lake County residents favor a bipartisan/independent redistrict commission. Only 18 percent of county residents oppose it, and 17 percent don’t know.

Jones polled 608 adults statewide from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5. The survey has a margin of error of 3.97 percent.