What effect will the "Better Boundaries" ballot initiative have on Utah's political landscape?

Our Democratic "Political Insiders" and readers think it will improve the political fortunes of Utah's Democrats, while the Republicans on our panel say it won't make much of a difference.

If voters approve Prop. 4 in November, it will set up a seven-member independent redistricting commission to redraw Utah's political boundaries for the once-a-decade redistricting process. The Utah Legislature would not forfeit their constitutional authority to redistrict. However, under the framework of Prop. 4, it will be tough for Utah lawmakers to reject the recommendations of the independent commission. UtahPolicy.com's Bob Bernick takes a deep dive into the changes Better Boundaries will implement here.

Proponents of Prop. 4 argue turning the process over to an independent commission will create more competitive political districts, and keep lawmakers from gerrymandering to favor one party, mostly Republicans, over another. In essence, the proposal will prevent politicians from choosing their own voters, the inherent conflict in our current system.

The Democrats on our "Insider" panel and our readers believe voters will approve Prop. 4 in November, while a slim majority of Republicans agree.

As to the overall impact of Prop. 4, if it's approved, our panel and readers have differing opinions.

  • 45% of the Democrats on our panel and 52% of our readers think Better Boundaries will lead to more Democrats being elected to the Utah Legislature and Congress.

  • 57% of the Republicans who responded said Prop. 4 would make no difference.

 

Selected anonymous comments:

It will make a small difference for Democrats in state districts but more importantly, it will make our elections a little more fair and independent of the state officials who tweak the system to their advantage as incumbents. We could use a little more democracy in this country and state.

Diminishing the Constitutional authority of the Utah Legislature to redistrict, a majority Republican body means Democrats get more power and influence.

The whole point of this is to get Democrats elected.

More Dems is a big maybe. Super question. They need to be better at many parts of the election process. Still - demographics are changing some which could yield more wins. And still...Utah is and will be Red for many years. My hope...better candidates and better campaigns.

I think this opens up the opportunity to make either CD3 or CD4 competitive depending on how they really draw Salt Lake County.

Better Boundaries is about fairness, no matter what side you're on. Politicians should be working for people, not the party--and unrepresented Utahns deserve a voice.

It won't change much in the short term, but with changing demographics, there could be changes in the number of Democrats elected.

I think this is so sad. Democrats continue to blame their lack of influence on everyone but themselves. The majority of Utahns are simply not aligned with Democratic principles.

In 2010, redistricting cut up Salt Lake County like a pizza pie and left that huge percentage of Utahns without representation.

All depends if they follow up and show up to vote which has been one of the problems in the past because of perception of a stacked deck. Hope it will at least make elections more competitive and interesting.

The problem at hand is that most voters don't think their votes count because the deck is stacked. This is not the silver bullet but it will swing the pendulum a bit more towards where the majority of voters ideologically lie which is neither right nor left.

This is a feel-good solution to a non-problem. Redistricting is, as Charles Bullock called it, "the most political activity in America," and nothing is going to change that. Eventually, Republicans will run out of ways to "crack" the Democrats in Salt Lake County and will elect to "pack" them, making one district safely D and however many other districts there are then safely R. Better Boundaries might move that date up a couple of years, but that's all. If BB results in more competitive districts (unlikely), it will lead to more voter dissatisfaction, not less. Democrats are happier when they are always represented by Ds than they would be if they were represented sometimes by Ds, sometimes by Rs. Same with Republicans. Voters only say they want competitive districts because it sounds good. In actuality, they want to be represented by whichever party they lean towards. 

I don't understand this initiative. They are asking the voters to allow them to make a "recommendation" to the legislature?! It's bizarre. They don't need an initiative to put together a recommendation. They don't need the voters' permission to put together a recommendation. It's still constitutionally required that the LEGISLATURE draw the boundaries. No initiative can change that. Sure, go ahead and send the legislature your recommendation. But just ask the Governor how closely the legislature follows (or even pays attention to) recommendations (ex: his yearly recommended budget). I'm sure it will pass because it sounds good to the average voter. But it will unlikely create any significant change. Changing demographics and opinions will eventually bring in a few more elected Democrats. This initiative will not.

Redistricting is a difficult process. With that said, the average citizen is disengaging with partisan politics. They will move toward the idea of "voting for the person, not the party." On the local and state level, candidates will focus on the wants and needs of constituents instead of party platforms. Therefore, Better Boundaries will make no difference in which party holds office in individual districts.

Will it make a dramatic difference? I doubt it. But it will likely make an incremental difference to favor Ds and disfavor Rs.

The Democrats need to organize themselves, find better candidates and appeal better to Utahns. Blaming their failures on Redistricting is a waste of their energy.

The Republican legislative majority gerrymander the boundaries to protect Republican incumbents and prevent the Democrats from having the congressional seat their political numbers deserve. Hopefully, Better Boundaries would create boundaries more representative of the actual political parties in Utah, rather than creating a Republican stronghold all over the state.

I served on the last redistricting committee. If a boundary map was created that established “safe” Democratic districts it would be 1) just as wrong as intentionally creating “safe” Republican districts, and 2) such creations would come at the expense of today’s “swing” districts where party demographics are more evenly matched. I believe the result would be a handful of “sure bets” instead of a greater number of “winnable” districts for the Minority party. The congressional districts have been the focus of most of the attention in the past. Those districts could easily be configured to intentionally create one safe Democrat district. 

It isn't about political parties as much as it is electing candidates from either party who are more responsive to constituents and more representative of the ideas for policy change constituents have.

Chris Stewart's congressional career is 100% dependent upon gerrymandering. He is wildly unpopular in the portion of the state's largest city and county which he supposedly "represents."

I hope it passes. I don't know that it will change the political outcomes or makeup of the state, but I think it will result in better representation.

The legislature will ignore the recommendations and do as it pleases. Might makes right.

"Better Boundaries" is nothing more than a bunch of Democrats who are trying to manipulate the system in their favor. I hope that voters are smart enough to recognize that.

More Democrats will be elected (at least in proportion to the number who vote for Democrats) IF and ONLY IF the voting boundaries in the state are revised - which is not required by the Better Boundaries initiative. Our state legislature still needs to be willing to give every voter equal power.

Don't even get me started; this is such a worthless proposal and a waste of time because Utah is not gerrymandered. All this will do is make people feel better about themselves. Utah is a Republican state, and it will always be a Republican state. Those that think it will bring about more democratic districts are fooling themselves. The democrats that support this will need to gerrymander if they want more seats.

More Democrats, but only marginally more. Definitely not a game changer by any means in terms of state power.

It's not about electing more Democrats, even for us Democrats. It's about making the process fair and honest. Right now it's all but two of those things.

As an independent who leans Democrat, the party is still having difficulty finding candidates that are considered moderates. The left-wing progressives have failed to come up with candidates and a platform that the average Utah voter is comfortable with.

I think it would affect Congress more than the legislature. Our Congressional Districts are clearly gerrymandered, while most, not all, legislative districts are reasonable. Senate District 26 is one that is gerrymandered. Ultimately, more Democrats will be elected because people moving to Utah are more liberal. Demographics are changing and will start trending Democratic.

Yes, a strong Democrat like Ben McAdams could be elected to Congress more easily, and 3-5 seats could be made more winnable for Democrats in the State House. I don't think the State Senate will be affected much, maybe one more Democratic seat.

If Salt Lake gets to have a voice that is not cut up into three different districts, that will give a fair advantage to the Democrat running in what is now Mia Love's district. When Democrats' voices are no longer silenced, they will actually vote which will have repercussions on the state legislature. Honestly, I'm flummoxed why Republicans wasted so much time demonizing Count my Vote when this one will have more lasting effects on them.

I don't hold out any hope that it will pass really, but it would be nice to have at least one Democrat in Washington I could count on.