I followed Utah’s Legislature and Legislative Redistricting Committee through 2011, attending perhaps 20 meetings. Here is what I learned: legislators acknowledged they were picking voters so they could be re-elected. At the get-go Republican leaders told Democrats to plan on losing two House seats; funny how they knew this.
To argue gerrymandering does not exist in Utah flies in the face of many Utah Republican and Democratic leaders who admitted to gerrymandering during the 2011 process. To now accuse Senator James Dabakis of lying when he accuses Republicans of gerrymandering is saying they all lied. The difference is Dabakis is aggravated with the outcome. Otherwise, most of Utah’s legislators have been tooth-picking their teeth over a job well done. Most selected the voters they wanted.
Selected Democrats were added to the Redistricting Committee, each hoping to participate in order to save his or her district through cooperation. In one redistricting meeting, a Republican administrative assistant accidentally handed out complete voting history statistics for a particular map so the committee and attendees could see how votes of independents and Democrats would be diluted. The legislative committee immediately demanded he pick up every paper distributed and the act stricken off the public record.
Both R’s and D’s use voting history. This is gerrymandering. In the 2011 process, Democrats offered their own map drawn using voting history information and the Republicans seared them over it.
One Republican House member offered a thoughtful and excellent Utah House district map containing compact districts without using voting history. In response, the Republican guard turned hostile and snubbed him in the “picking voters process” so he would potentially lose his re-election. He lost.
The Salt Lake Tribune at least, and perhaps The Deseret News (I can’t remember, yet both papers were giving fair coverage of the redistricting process) accessed voting history data from the Republicans and Democrats reflected on the final maps. The summaries were published.
Regarding Jesse Feller’s shared fact stating most Democrats voted for House and Senate maps; yes they did. Political bullying by Republican leaders was front and center at almost every redistricting meeting.
A Republican run ragged by my insistence told me redistricting is “political.” He said, “Why bother trying to change it?” The problem is it is not politicians, or in Utah’s case, Democrats, feeling rebuffed. The problem is even more critical: Utah’s citizens are rebuffed.
What Feller also assumed in his “Dabakis is lying” diatribe is Utah’s unaffiliated voters mostly vote Republican and Democrats do not have a chance at a 5:1 ratio. However, the bulk of the votes given to Democrats are from the unaffiliated. In 2012 at least, the number of independent (unaffiliated) voters was the largest voting block in Utah.
I’ll make an assumption too. The reason Utah has a very large population of independents is not because they are wanna-be-Republicans, as Feller is hoping, but because many are disgusted with party politics. For many independents, the process seems rigged (i.e., redistricting). It also seems rigged against even conservative moderates who don’t have a choice in elections because the Republican candidate chosen in caucus is running on fear-mongering and far right politics. Thus, people don’t show to the polls in Utah. They’ve given up.
Regarding redistricting: In 2011 I had come to the conclusion the way to prevent redistricting’s weakening of democracy is not by using an independent redistricting commission. Stones will still fly with a commission. But use the same sophisticated computer calculations that have been corrupting the process, that have been dissecting and diluting voters, to otherwise calculate mathematically compact districts. Using precise variables without political distortion is possible.
A person denying Utah Government has ever gerrymandered is like denying a claim that people breathe.