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SALT LAKE CITY -- A citizen group called Fair Boundaries is pushing for a petition drive to change how the state handles redistricting. If it passes, voters would decide on the Utah Redistricting Standards Commission in 2010.
At the Lieutenant Governor's Office, this got the ball rolling. It's an attempt to take the power of redistricting away from the Legislature.
Marcie Smith West, Fair Boundaries: "No matter the party affiliation, the system is broken. There needs to be a scientific, reasonable, nonpartisan, neutral way to draw the lines," said Marcie Smith West, founder of Fair Boundaries.
This is the first step toward an independent redistricting standards commission in 2010. A petition drive is first, with more than 94,000 signatures needed statewide by April of next year. That would put Fair Boundaries' issue on the ballot.
The Fair Boundaries group points to legislative district maps drawn in 2001. Boundaries for Congress and state House and Senate districts were criticized as being "gerrymandered."
Critics cite examples of boundaries that don't follow major streets or natural geography. "It was done purely to protect the jobs of existing legislators," said Glenn Wright, field director for Fair Boundaries.
Legislators reject that view. House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, even wrote his opinion in the Salt Lake Tribune, where he insisted: "The current process embraces the political system of checks and balances." The proposed commission would still be political, Clark says, but not accountable to voters.
If this initiative passes and the commission meets and makes its recommendation, the Legislature would still be involved. However, that involvement would be limited to a special session, and then voting a simple "yes" or "no" on what the commission has handed them.
The petition drive boils down to a power struggle, and both sides are getting prepared for it. Under state law, the lieutenant governor has 60 days to process and approve the application before Fair Boundaries can start collecting signatures.