Legislative boundaries sound boring. Get about two sentences in talking about them, and most people’s eyes will glaze over. Hey, you. Wake up, please. See what I mean? That dull veneer is kind of the point because it keeps people from paying attention to something that matters a lot: representation in government. As happens every 10 years, legislative districts were redrawn in late 2021. Summit County was split between four State House districts (4, 23, 59 and 68) and two State Senate districts (3 and 20). The County was also split into two Congressional Districts at the federal level (the first and third). Summit County residents of all stripes should be miffed as the community’s influence will likely be diminished.
“It’s certainly worse than before, but we’ve been gerrymandered for 10 years in Summit County,” says Summit County Democratic Party Chair Katy Owens. “It just represents a further effort to dilute the voice of Summit County voters.” Owens’ counterpart, Summit County Republican Party Vice-chair (acting as temporary chair) Karen Ballash did not respond to requests for comment.
Without question, winners and losers emerge after each round of redistricting. However, in this instance, it seems the will of a majority of Utah voters was deliberately subverted and Summit County is in the crosshairs of the skewed redistricting effort. A statewide ballot initiative in 2018 passed by 7,000 votes asking for the creation of a non-partisan commission to draw political boundaries. In drawing the new boundaries, the Utah Legislature completely ignored the recommendations and maps created by the independent commission.
“The commission was very open and transparent, taking feedback from public meetings and posting maps during the process,” Owens says. “The legislature dropped their map on a Friday night at 11 p.m. and voted for it on a Monday without any public input. It was clearly drawn as incumbent protection.”
So, what does redistricting mean for representation? It’s difficult to pin down exactly, but Summit County appears to be in a representative black hole. “We don’t have a single representative who lives here in Summit County despite how populous the county is and how influential it is to the state’s economy,” Owens says. “But some people do argue that we have numerous people in the legislature who could advocate for the county and a single representative may not have much bargaining power,” she concedes.
For the next decade, Summit County will be represented in small slices. Time will tell how the community will be impacted, but in the meantime, it’s difficult to argue with voters who feel slighted.
The Federal Split
Voters in Park City are now part of the third congressional district for the first time since the 1990 census. Unincorporated Park City voters including residents of Snyderville, Jeremy Ranch, Pinebrook and Summit Park remain in the first district, splitting what has been a relatively cohesive voting bloc in two. Leaders of both political parties have long held the county would hold more influence if included in a single district.
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