Time to Slay the Gerrymander
“Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” That’s how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it as she wrote for the majority in a 2015 Supreme Court decision.
However, the practice of manipulating voters’ district boundaries with the intent of creating political advantage for a particular party widely persists. That odious exercise called gerrymandering is more than 200 years old.
In 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redistricted his state to benefit his party. When critics looked at the map they said one of the twisted districts near Boston was shaped like a mythical salamander. And voters who have been unhappy with a redistricting that follows every census have called it gerrymandering ever since.
Both Republicans and Democrats use the trick to enforce their dominance when they can, and what is or isn’t fair may be in the eyes of the beholder. Following the Utah legislature’s redistricting of congressional seats in 2001, then-Senator Bob Bennett broke with his party and called it one of the worst examples of gerrymandering he’d ever seen.
But there’s a stirring in the land to remedy such claims and to ensure voters that the boundaries redrawn every ten years will grant them fair and equitable representation.
For example, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case this fall (Gill v. Whitford) that will decide whether voter redistricting in Wisconsin used partisan gerrymandering and whether that type of redistricting is unconstitutional.
Two years ago, the Court upheld the practice of having an independent commission, rather than a state legislature, oversee redistricting. Independent commissions now exist in Arizona and California where politics is taken out of the process.
The Utah legislature’s failure to address the issue of gerrymandering has recently prompted a group called “Better Boundaries” to push for a ballot initiative to put the question of creating an independent redistricting commission before Utah voters.
The United Utah Party platform calls for independent redistricting as an element of healthy government reform. Because we can do better.
We should have the expectation in Utah that each person’s voice and views are reflected in the power of their votes that aren’t sliced and diced and bundled in a way to suppress their influence in the outcomes of elections.
If that idea makes sense to you, check out the United Utah Party platform here.