Legislature finished tweaks to redistricting

Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT) - Sunday, January 29, 2012
Author: Lee Davidson The Salt Lake Tribune

The first three bills to gain final approval of 2012 flew through the Legislature on Friday to fix some minor problems with redistricting of political boundaries that was completed late last year. 

Lawmakers unanimously passed the measures to make about 60 total changes to state House, Senate and school board boundaries, and sent them to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature. Lawmakers did not alter controversial congressional boundaries that also had been passed last year. 

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, House co-chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said most of the problems came because the Legislature used census blocks to draw new boundaries. County clerks found those blocks did not always match city boundaries. 

In some cases where lawmakers intended to include all of a city in a particular district, the boundaries had failed to do so. Changes were made to correct that; most affected only a handful of people. 

Other problems emerged because, with new crisscrossing boundaries for the Legislature, school board and Congress, counties on occasion found they would have been forced to create new voting precincts that would include only one or two homes. Sumsion said they would be so small that even with secret ballots, it would be fairly clear how residents voted. So boundaries were altered to allow bigger districts. 

The Legislature expedited passage -- and made bills take effect immediately upon the governor signing them -- because county clerks by law must finalize their voting precinct boundaries by Tuesday. Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the Legislature will also speed formal enrollment of the bills so that Gov. Gary Herbert can sign them into law quickly. 

Sumsion said lawmakers refused any requests from counties that would affect congressional districts. He explained they were drawn so that three districts have exactly equal populations, and the fourth has only one person more. He said the Legislature sought such equality to reduce the possibility of lawsuits, and it did not want to upset that tight balance with any changes.