We all knew that redistricting would be a tough business, but I’m not sure anyone suspected it would be this tough. In addition to the normal partisan concerns, cities and counties are all calling for not being split up into multiple districts. There’s also a dichotomous message of “don’t gerrymander” combined with “don’t make us lose seats even though the population figures say we should” coming from Utah Democrats. There are things, though, that would readily alleviate many of these problems.
The Legislature has opted to keep the House frozen at 75 seats rather than allowing it to expand to the limit of 87 from Article IX, Section 2 of the Utah Constitution. This creates less flexibility in redistricting as each seat need to contain roughly 33,000 residents. Even an expansion to the maximum limit would only drop the size of a district to 28,500. This makes it difficult to not split up large cities or combine smaller cities together, sometimes in piecemeal, but it is a step in the right direction. Consider that in 1900, just four years after statehood, Utah had just 276,000 people and a district with the current number of seats would be just 3700 people. We have ten times as many people, but no more representation. This will obviously mean that many voices will not be heard.
While we can’t do much about the federal level (though organizations like ThirtyThousand working to fix it), we can absolutely work to make sure that our districts allow for much more fine-grained representation. It’s too late to do anything for this year, but we should ask that something be done to expand the House as much as possible. It will keep neighborhoods whole, make legislators more responsive and accountable, and allow cash-poor candidates the opportunity to serve.