By a healthy majority, Utahns want a bi-partisan, independent commission to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries rather than have the partisan Utah Legislature do it alone, a new UtahPolicy.com poll finds.
But whether the Better Boundaries citizen initiative petition-backers can get the required 113,000 voter signatures to put their proposal on the 2018 November ballot remains to be seen.
In a new Dan Jones & Associates poll:
58 percent of Utahns favor the proposal.
20 percent oppose it.
And 23 percent don’t know.
That’s a fairly high “don’t know” number, and reflects voters basic ignorance of how the U.S. House and state Senate and House districts are redrawn every 10 years by the partisan Legislature after the federal Census.
If Better Boundaries can get on the ballot and voters approve it, the new seven-member commission would redraw the boundaries in 2021, after the 2020 Census.
The Utah Constitution says the Legislature will redraw boundaries – and the state Constitution CANNOT be changed via citizen initiative.
Only the Legislature can put a constitutional amendment before voters.
But, as other states have done, the redistricting petition, if approved, would set tight guidelines that the seven-member commission would use in redrawing the districts.
Once adopted, the commission’s recommendation would go before the Legislature – which would have to vote it up or down without changing it.
If lawmakers voted the recommendation down, they would have to give specific reasons where the commission failed in following the tight guidelines.
All pretty high bars for lawmakers to reach if they disagree with the bi-partisan commission.
Assuming the governor is a Republican, and Republicans are the majority in the Utah House and Senate – which has been the case since 1984 – then the commission would be made up of four GOP nominees and three Democratic nominees – put forward by the governor and majority and minority leaders in the Utah House and Senate.
So the majority party in Utah – Republicans – would still have a majority on the commission.
But, again, the petition sets down strict guidelines in redrawing the boundaries, including rejecting any partisan voting patterns and where incumbent legislators may live – all which play a big part of the Legislature’s GOP-dominated, previous redistricting work.
Jones finds that even rank-and-file Republicans in Utah favor the bi-partisan commission petition:
The GOP voters back the petition, 51-22 percent, with 27 percent don’t know.
Democrats really like the BB idea, 70-16 percent with 14 percent don’t know.
And political independents like the redistricting commission, 66-19 percent with 16 percent don’t know.
There are two redistricting/gerrymandering cases now before the U.S. Supreme Court, likely decided this June.
And the justices have let stand at least two federal appeals court decisions outlawing gerrymandering in the states – and requiring those states to redistrict even before the fall 2018 elections.
So it may well be that should Utah’s Better Boundaries petition fail – either in signature gathering or at the polls – that come 2021 the Utah Legislature would have to change the manner in which it draws U.S. House and legislative boundaries, via Supreme Court guidelines.
But it is also likely no high court decision would contain the specificity found in the petition – which would make the Utah process basically nonpartisan, requiring as it does geographic city and county boundaries to be paramount in redistricting.
Jones finds the only group not in the majority in favoring the BB petition are those who self-identified as “very conservative” politically.
In that group, 42 percent favor the BB petition, 30 percent oppose, and 27 percent don’t know.
The “somewhat conservative” group favors it, 61-16 percent.
The “moderate” group likes it, 58-21 percent.
The “somewhat liberals,” 70-12 percent in favor.
The “very liberals,” 67- 12 percent.
The relatively-high “don’t know” among the various demographic groups shows the redistricting process is not well known in Utah.
That’s reflective of these numbers:
— Those with high school degrees favor the redistricting commission, 48-25 percent with 27 percent undecided.
— Those with post-college degrees, like doctors and PhDs, favor the petition, 66-18 percent, with 16 percent don’t know.
Jones polled 609 adults from Feb. 9–16. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.