System to redraw Utah districts meets ballot threshold

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A ballot initiative that would create a new system for drawing Utah’s state legislative and congressional districts has met the threshold to be placed before voters in November.

An updated count of verified signatures posted by Utah’s lieutenant governor’s office shows the so-called Better Boundaries initiative should qualify for the ballot. Results are not official until they’ve been certified by the lieutenant governor next month.

If approved by voters, the new initiative would create a seven-member bipartisan commission to redraw state districts to specific standards following the 2020 census. Lawmakers would then vote to approve or reject the new maps.

“We believe that voters should be picking their politicians and not the other way around, that is the politicians picking their voters,” Ralph Becker said, co-chair of the Better Boundaries Coalition.

Critics of the state’s current system say that the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature has gerrymandered districts to reduce the number of competitive races and allow politicians to ignore their constituents. An analysis of state legislative districts by The Associated Press last June found that the state’s map may have benefited Republicans.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has said there’s “certainly intellectually good sense to” the reform.

“It’s not going to be exactly the silver bullet that everybody thinks it’s going to be, but I have no opposition to independent redistricting,” he told reporters last month.

Better Boundaries campaign manager Catherine Kanter said supporters were pleased to have reached the preliminary threshold.

Opponents of the measure worry it takes too much power away from the state legislature, which currently draws the districts.

Outgoing Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes’ office has called redistricting “a fundamental duty of the Legislature.”

With the initiative, Utah is part of a nationwide trend of states eyeing changes to the redistricting process ahead of the 2020 census. More than 400 House districts and nearly 7,400 state legislative districts will be redrawn following the census, and at least 18 states have grappled with reforming how that will happen.

The threshold reached Thursday means that all four of Utah’s closely-watched ballot initiatives are expected to be presented to voters in November. Data from the lieutenant governor’s office has previously shown that questions should also qualify on medical marijuana, expanding Medicaid and making it easier for political candidates to bypass party conventions.

Opponents of some of those initiatives are hoping to block them from reaching the ballot by using the final days before certification to convince voters to withdraw their names from petitions.

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