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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been described as a "tough job" — the task of redrawing the state’s political boundaries for congressional and legislative districts, as well as for the state school board, to reflect population shifts in the past 10 years.
But as challenging and time consuming as that job may be, there might be one that’s at least just as tough: Getting the public interested and involved in the process.
That’s the mission of the Utah Citizens’ Counsel, a group dedicated to building public interest in the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years following the government census. The group is made up of members from RepresentMe Utah, the League of Women Voters, the Utah Education Association, AARP and others.
And they will be able to say, ‘We held some meetings, there were very few people who came, and so there's not much interest.'
UCC member Paul Thompson is one person who believes the public’s interest is essential in crafting boundaries that truly represent the people who live there. He fears the Legislature's Redistricting Committee will take a lack of input as a lack of interest.
"And they will be able to say, ‘We held some meetings, there were very few people who came, and so there’s not much interest,’” Thompson said.
But he believes every voter should be interested in having an elected official who truly represents their interests.
The 2010 census confirmed the state's population has increased enough to earn it a fourth congressional seat — from 2.23 million to 2.76 million in the past 10 years.
The UCC's technical consultant, Joe Dunlop, has drawn four proposed maps that he says reflect congressional districts that truly represent Utahns.
This so-called ‘donut approach' does provide a mix of rural and urban areas, except in Salt Lake County. The idea is to have as few divisions as possible, in all these districts.
Dunlop said he was unimpressed with the Legislature’s boundaries 10 years ago, which essentially changed Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson’s district to include more traditionally Republican areas of the state.
Dunlop's newly proposed maps, which reflect the state’s new fourth congressional seat, show most of Salt Lake County as one district.
"This so-called ‘donut approach’ does provide a mix of rural and urban areas, except in Salt Lake County,” Dunlop said. "The idea is to have as few divisions as possible, in all these districts.”
Dunlop said he wants his maps to be a topic of discussion at the various public meetings where the Redistricting Committee will meet.
"If citizens don’t take the opportunity to give input now, they reduce the amount of input they can put in the future, because it limits their options,” Dunlop said.
The Legislature’s Redistricting Committee, comprised of 14 Republican and five Democrat lawmakers, is scheduled to go throughout the state to gather public input. Committee chairman Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-Lehi, has pledged to be fair throughout the process.
I just don't think they listen to us. From everything we've said in the past, I just don't think they listen to us as the public.
And most of the Republican-dominated Legislature has expressed a similar sentiment.
But even those involved in the effort to whip up public support admit it’s a tough job.
In downtown Salt Lake City, painter John Latham was busy Monday touching up the job he was working on near 300 South and Main Street. For Latham, redistricting is a far- off concern.
"I just don’t think they listen to us,” Latham said. "From everything we’ve said in the past, I just don’t think they listen to us as the public.”
The committee is taking its meetings on the road this week, starting in Lehi Friday. Residents will also be able to use a website to listen in on hearings, work on their own map proposals and track the progress of the committee's work. The state is still negotiating the software contract for the redistricting feature of the site.
The UCC is likewise holding a web-based community conversation to stimulate interest in the redistricting process. The webinar is on www.utahcitizencounsel.org at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Eloise Maughan plans to be there, even though she says she feels disenfranchised herself.
"I still write letters, I still make phone calls, I still sign petitions,” Maughan said. "It’s the only way to get anything done, even though it’s hard to get anything done.”