SALT LAKE CITY — Proposition 4, which would create an independent redistricting commission, was narrowly leading in Tuesday's election but supporters weren't ready to declare victory.
The ballot initiative known as Better Boundaries was supported by 51.6 percent of Utah voters in the largely by-mail election in the initial results, and opposed by 48.4 percent, unofficial results showed.
"We are cautiously optimistic we are going to win, but it's too close to call at this point," Jeff Wright, Better Boundaries' Republican co-chairman, said.
One of the most vocal opponents, Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the vote "must be well-watched by Democratic groups from outside of our state that have spent millions of dollars on advertising to pass this proposition."
In a campaign largely funded by out-of-state groups, it was pitched as a stopgap against what's known as gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party or candidate over another.
Proposition 4 asked Utahns to establish a seven-member independent redistricting commission, appointed by elected officials of both parties, to recommend boundary adjustments to reflect population shifts following the once-every-decade census.
Even with the commission, the proposition would still leave it up to state lawmakers to approve their own House and Senate district boundaries as well as those for congressional representatives and state school board members.
But having a group outside of the Legislature coming up with new redistricting maps was seen by both supporters and opponents of Proposition 4 as putting political pressure on the process.
Lawmakers would be required to enact or reject the commission's recommendation, and any redistricting plan ultimately put in place would have to follow standards such as minimizing the division of communities and neighborhoods.
For supporters, the hope is an independent recommendation makes it harder to repeat some of the problems of the past, such as the 2011 decision to divide the small community of Holladay into multiple legislative and congressional districts.
Opponents, however, point to the redrawing of the state's congressional districts to dilute Democratic influence in Salt Lake County over the past two redistricting cycles as the real reason behind the ballot initiative.
In 2001, even the conservative Wall Street Journal took note of the impact of the new boundaries on the last Utah Democrat to serve in Congress, former Rep. Jim Matheson, citing it as one of the nation's worst examples of gerrymandering.
Ten years later, when Utah added a fourth congressional district thanks to population growth, Salt Lake County was divided into three of the districts that also included rural counties.
Better Boundaries leaders are a mix of Republicans and Democrats and have used footage of the late Republican President Ronald Reagan talking about the need to stop gerrymandering in their TV commercials.