Logan voter district discussion leads to more delay

LOGAN – After much research and discussion about the question of whether the Logan City Council should transition to a voter district form of government, council members decided Tuesday to just “kick the can down the road.”

While former council chair Amy Z. Anderson argued that the panel should at least establish a timeline for making that important decision, current council chair Mark A. Anderson countered that the issue is too important to rush to judgment.

Council members have spent more than a month contacting officials of other municipalities seeking their pro and con input on the varied forms of their governing bodies.

Mark Anderson had compiled a list of those communities to be researched, all of which were relatively similar in size to Logan and many of which were also college or university towns. Those communities were also selected to obtain input from officials involved in the three predominant forms of city government – at-large representation, council members selected from voter districts and a hybrid form of government that combines those two forms of representation.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the city council, its members compared notes and discovered that officials from peer cities are universally convinced that whatever form of government they participate in “is the best one.”

Despite that conviction, most of those cities also report the same concerns faced by Logan officials, especially low voter turnout in municipal elections and limited citizen participation in city government.

Local debate over the issue of municipal representation began in October 2019. After a contentious meeting during which former council member Jess Bradfield urged that panel to voluntarily adopt an ordinance implementing by-district election of council members, the Logan City Council agreed to form a citizen committee to evaluate voting systems.

Critics of the city’s current at-large voting system, which was implemented in 2009, contend that residents of Logan’s populous and diverse Bridger, Ellis and Woodruff neighborhoods are inadequately represented because the city council has been dominated by candidates from the affluent Hillcrest and Wilson neighborhoods.

In a report delivered to the city council in January, representatives of five of the city’s six neighborhoods supported the idea that implementing by-district voting would facilitate broader representation on the city council.

But the city council members don’t consider that report to be definitive, according to Mark Anderson.

The (citizens’) report was intended to give us a background into the discussion,” he has explained, “including costs, legal issues, comparison and information on each type of voting system, especially their pros and cons and their potential for good and bad consequences.

“I don’t think (that report) was ever intended to be anything more than a tool for the council to use to start our own investigation of potential voting systems changes in Logan.”

Joining Tuesday’s discussion, Mayor Holly Daines observed that one of the benefits of at-large voting in recent city elections has been that candidates have focused on qualifications and issues rather than negative attacks on their opponents.

But, playing devil’s advocate, council member Tom Jensen suggested that voting by districts would make it easier for a candidate to canvass his or her neighborhood on foot.

The crux of the issue, Mark Anderson stressed during Tuesday’s meeting, is whether making it easier for candidates to run for the city council is a valid reason for Logan to change to district voting.

Complicating the council members’ deliberations is the question of how to define the boundaries of voting districts if the city were to decide to transition to that form of government.

Amy Anderson explained that she envisioned that voter districts would be “communities of interests,” but instead found that voter districts in most peer cities were based strictly on population.

If Logan were to use that same rule of thumb, council members agreed, then any delineation of voter district boundaries cannot be made until new population data from the 2020 Census is available later this year.

That data, which is also crucial to the once-a-decade congressional redistricting process, has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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