Commentary: Redistricting controversy not exclusive to Utah

Redistricting is always one of the most difficult and controversial duties of a state legislature. That was certainly the case this year in Utah, with district lines drawn by both a legislative committee and an independent redistricting commission. The Legislature did not select any of the commission plans, generating a great deal of criticism.

Analysis by some outside groups show the new congressional districts favor Republicans. It remains to be seen whether any of the activist groups supporting the commission plans will file lawsuits seeking to overturn the legislative redistricting. Republican legislators believe they are on solid legal ground with the districts they created.

Controversy over redistricting is even greater in some other states. A headline in an article in notes that “Redistricting Reform is Easier Said Than Done.” Voters in several states created redistricting commission, says the article. “Some have had their work overridden by the legislature or they’ve failed to produce maps entirely.”

Some of the commissions have had a rough time. “In Virginia, the process broke down entirely, with the state Supreme Court taking over. An older commission in Washington state missed its deadline, similarly shifting responsibility to the state Supreme Court. New York’s commission, created via ballot measure in 2014, also appears likely to deadlock. Last month, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill allowing the Legislature to draw maps if the commission can’t produce anything by a January deadline.”

It’s worth noting that the federal voting rights bill passed by the U.S. House would make independent commissions mandatory for all states. The legislation is being held up in the Senate and its future is uncertain. 

Meanwhile, across the country, both Republicans and Democrats are accusing each other of gerrymandering – drawing districts to favor their political party. A headline in The Hill reads, “Democrats decry gerrymandering — unless they control the maps” | TheHill

“As Democrats across the country blast aggressive Republican gerrymanders as a blatant threat to America’s democratic order, party leaders in two blue states are playing hardball with their own congressional district lines, finalizing plans that could shut Republicans entirely out of delegations to the U.S. House of Representatives.”

There’s no question that in most states the party in control is producing district maps that favor their party. On the national level, both parties have created high-powered committees with plenty of funding and lawyers to monitor redistricting across the country and seek advantage for their party. They are attempting to influence legislatures and redistricting commissions and, in some cases, filing lawsuits to overturn redistricting plans they don’t like.

But, nationally, Democrats have a big problem because Republicans control more state legislatures and governorships than they do.

So, redistricting is politics as usual in most states across the country, including in Utah. If voters put you in power, you get to use that power to your advantage.