Lawmaker Seeks To Soften Redistricting Rules

Dec 21, 2016

Redistricting: it’s the process of defining the boundaries of voting districts and it can be politically contentious. A new law in the upcoming legislative session is trying to take some of the politics out of the process. 

Merrill Nelson lives in and represents Utah House District 68, a large area in Tooele County and the west side of the state. Right now, in rural parts of Utah like this one, legislative districts have to be drawn to include the exact same number of people as the urban areas like in Salt Lake City.   

"What that results in is multiple incidents of crossing county and municipal and neighborhood lines to take in just another 100 people or 200, or even 50 people more, to reach that mathematical precision from district to district," Nelson says. 

Nelson says that can cause rural districts to be geographically huge and it encourages gerrymandering – drawing district lines to favor one candidate or weaken another based on where their supporters live.  

In the upcoming legislative session, Nelson plans to sponsor a bill that wouldn’t require strict population limits from one district to another.  

This change would allow districts to be smaller and base their boundaries on county and municipal lines, limiting the influence of political parties.

"What I’m hoping with this is that we can draw lines really without regard to politics," Nelson says. 

The next time redistricting will be happening isn’t until 2021 after the results of the 2020 census are released.  Nelson says his timing on this bill is intentional. He hopes to get this law passed early before redistricting again becomes a politically charged issue.