Over two weeks after election day, late-breaking results in incredibly tight contests are still trickling in. The latest race to be decided does not affect the balance of power in Congress for the next term, but could be highly influential in determining the share each party may get in future elections.
The anti-gerrymandering ballot measure that calls for the establishment of an independent redistricting commission squeaked through to victory in Utah, according to the final results released last night.
The proposition was approved by a less than one percent margin after being “virtually deadlocked through two weeks of vote counting,” according to The Associated Press. The measure will replace Utah’s current system of determining congressional and state legislative districts through a vote of the state legislature that must be signed off by the governor of the traditionally Republican-controlled state.
In place of the existing method, the proposition creates an independent seven-person commision to oversee redistricting once the results of the 2020 census are reported and population shifts are accounted for. The new electoral maps created by the commision would then be sent to the state legislature for approval.
It remains to be seen how effective the new commision in Utah will be in reducing partisan gerrymandering since its members are to be appointed by the state’s governor and state legislative leaders, according to Ballotpedia. However, the measure does include restrictions on who exactly can be appointed to the commision.
“A person is not eligible to serve as a commissioner if, during the four years before appointment, he or she was a lobbyist; was a candidate for or holder of any political or elected office; received compensation from a political party, political party committee, or political action committee associated with a political party,” Ballotpedia’s summary of the measure reads.
Hopefully, those restrictions will prevent the appointment of the most brazen partisan hacks to the body drawing the district maps.
The current electoral districts in Utah are set up to dilute the possibility of Democratic victories by dividing the areas around Salt Lake City, where most of the state’s Democrats are concentrated, into four separate districts. Republicans now control 75% of the Congressional seats in the state (down from 100% before the midterms after the Democrat’s last-minute defeat of incumbent Rep. Mia Love), despite having only received 62% of the total vote for House candidates.
With the official passage of the measure, Utah joins Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio in passing ballot measures this year reforming the process by which election districts are created.
Since Republicans have used both gerrymandering and voter suppression as effective weapons in their arsenal to control the levers of government even when they receive less than a majority of statewide support, these new redistricting laws should be hailed as a small but important step in rescuing representative democracy from the distorted machinations of partisanship in this country. Now let’s see the other states ensure that their redistricting plans are equally free of partisan distortions.
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Original reporting by The Associated Press.