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Utah Group Launches Ballot Initiative For Independent Redistricting Commission

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and business executive Jeff Wright are co-chairing the Better Boundaries Campaign to reform Utah's redistricting process.

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.

Utah Better Boundaries Application - 2018 Ballot Initiative 

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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