A new group is launching a ballot initiative to create an independent commission aimed at reforming the way Utah draws its electoral boundaries.
Former Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and chairman of a local private equity firm Jeff Wright are spearheading the Better Boundaries Campaign.
The goal, Wright said, is to reform what he describes as a broken process in which state legislators are able to manipulate the political boundaries of their districts to retain power.
“This is about creating political competition,” said Wright. “I think that there’s a paradox in our democracy right now, in that the voters are dissatisfied and not happy with the way the government is working — and yet incumbents rarely lose their seats at the ballot box.”
The initiative seeks to create a seven-member independent commission that would consist of three Republicans, three Democrats and one unaffiliated chair appointed by the governor. The commission would then create standards and oversee the redrawing of all political boundaries every 10 years, coinciding with the Census.
The Utah Legislature, which has ultimate authority over the maps, would then approve or reject redistricting plans recommended by the commission.
Becker said having worked on redistricting efforts in 2000 and 2010, he saw repeated instances of legislators trying to pick boundaries that benefited them politically.
“The legislature has had opportunity after opportunity to address redistricting in a way that is less partisan and personal,” he said. “They haven’t acted. This is a chance for the voting public of Utah to say, ‘We want a redistricting process that is independent and that is respectful of our communities.'”
This is the third statewide ballot initiative to launch in recent months. Groups are also gathering signatures for a ballot question on legalizing medical marijuana and raising property taxes for education funding.
The Better Boundaries Campaign will need to collect 113,000 signatures by April 15 of next year to qualify for the 2018 ballot.