TAYLORSVILLE — Utah's independent redistricting committee meeting was cut short Tuesday evening after several people hacked the meeting's video conference call with explicit images and language.
The bizarre ending came less than an hour into the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission meeting where the six current members of the committee were receiving training from a Utah Attorney General's Office representative over how public meetings could be handled.
While most of the members of the team met in person, a link from the video conference app Zoom was made available for the general public to listen in. Anyone with a Zoom account could join the meeting. A few dozen people had joined via the video conference call with no disruptions for the beginning of the meeting.
About 40 minutes into the meeting, an individual joined playing music with explicit lyrics and displaying a pornographic image.
The meeting continued after the individual was kicked off the chat. But shortly after, multiple people joined the meeting posing as Russian hackers. Some also blared disrupting music and used racial slurs.
"Apparently somebody has nothing better to do than to harass a public meeting," said Rex Facer, chairman of the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission, during the meeting.
After a lengthy pause, Facer tried to continue the meeting but eventually called for the meeting to end abruptly about an hour earlier than it was scheduled to conclude. His motion was quickly approved by other members of the committee.
Prior to that vote, he apologized for the disruption and said the committee would use a new technology system for future meetings.
The independent redistricting committee was formed through Proposition 4 that passed in 2018 and then tweaked during the 2020 legislative session. Its purpose is to try to redraw the state's voting maps for the next decade.
The meeting began inauspiciously as Facer began by announcing that former Utah Sen. Patricia Jones had resigned from the commission due to personal reasons. It wasn't disclosed when she resigned.
Jones was appointed to the committee by the Utah Democratic Party. Facer said that he expected to know who Jones' replacement will be "by the end of the week" and would inform the other commissioners as soon as her replacement is named.
Other than that announcement the meeting was rather uneventful and mostly administrative until the "Zoom-bombing" began. Facer and other members of the committee began the meeting by introducing themselves and outlining their goals for the commission as they work to design the state's voting maps.
Former Utah Sen. Lyle Hillyard, who was one of the Utah Legislature's selections for the commission, said the committee's task is likely to be a "very difficult situation" because Utah has an over three to one ratio of registered Republicans to Democrats. He said he originally criticized the current congressional map until he determined that it forced all four of the state's representatives to view all members of state, not just Republican residents.
Bill Thorne, a former appellate judge and a Utah Democratic Party selection to the commission, added that he believed the ultimate goal is to come up with a map that is "fair."
"Utah has been good to me so when I was asked to do this, I couldn't say no," he said.
Rob Bishop, the former long-term congressman for Utah's 1st District, was another selection to the committee. He stressed in his opening remarks that he was concerned about the time crunch the committee is dealing with following the Census Bureau's massive delays providing information regarding the 2020 Census. That information is important for all states trying to redraw voting maps.
During a normal situation, the commission would already have that data, but that data isn't expected until much later this year. The commission did get some help from the Utah Legislature, which passed a bill that pushed back the commission's Aug. 1 deadline to present the state new maps; the new deadline is Nov. 1. Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill on March 17.
"Waiting to August or September (for census data) is going to put an enormous amount of pressure on us as well as the Legislature," Bishop said. "I think we need to be a little bit creative in the way we get things done or we won't get the deadlines — and the deadlines have to be met because of other laws that require canvassers to start collecting signatures in January."
The committee also discussed how it would want to conduct future meetings. Facer suggested they meet once every two weeks until more census data arrive; committee members agreed that evenings would be better for meeting times, as well.
Facer added he wanted to turn the commission's next meeting into an introduction into redistricting from previous examples.