At the Oct. 5 Grand County Commission meeting, Commissioner Kevin Walker led a demonstration of how to use the county’s redistricting portal to submit district maps for the commission’s consideration in the up-coming, once-a-decade redistricting process.

Commissioners hope for substantial community participation so the commission can understand the most important issues that ally neighborhoods together, and where those neighborhoods are. Combining neighborhoods with common concerns gives those neighborhoods a stronger voice on the issues that matter to them; dividing those neighborhoods dilutes their views on those issues. The commission will have the final say on the new commissioner districts, and wants to be as informed as possible on relevant “communities of interest,” as they are called.

At the local and state levels, redistricting officials are soliciting input from the public on where the new district boundaries should lie for state representatives and senators, school board representatives, local elected officials, and voter district boundaries for referendums and propositions. [See “How redistricting works in Utah,” Sep. 16 edition. -ed]

On Oct. 6, the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee held a public hearing at the Grand Center in Moab. The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission has also scheduled a public hearing in Moab, which will be on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. at Moab City Hall. The UIRC is a bipartisan body separate from the legislative committee that will provide map recommendations to the legislature, which will make the final decision on state district boundaries. Both of these state bodies have been holding public hearings throughout the state to gather as much input from residents as possible.

County redistricting portal

The Grand County Commission has set up an online portal that residents can use to submit written comments, identify communities of interest, or recommend complete district maps. Portal users can also look at plans submitted by others and comment on them.

The website for the county portal is https://portal.utah-mapping.org/. To view Walker’s demonstration, watch the Youtube recording of the Oct. 5 Grand County Commission meeting. The demonstration begins at minute 32:00. Walker guided Commissioner Evan Clapper through a hypothetical map-drawing exercise. The map drawing tool includes population data from the 2020 census. Each district must have a roughly equal population; the tool helps users balance the district numbers. Practicing with the tool, Walker said, will help anyone interested in the new boundaries understand the challenges and complexities of creating balanced districts.

Maps and comments will be accepted through the portal until Nov. 1. The commission will have the month of November to evaluate the submitted maps; the public will also be invited to comment on those submissions during that time. The commission aims to select a final map at its first meeting in December, which is Dec. 7. The commission must, under statute, select a final map by the end of the year.

At the Oct. 5 meeting, the commission also unanimously approved a formal stance on the state’s redistricting process as it affects Southeast Utah. Commissioners agreed that Grand County should not be split between different Utah House, Senate, or School Board districts.

Grand County was split between two State House districts in the 2011 redistricting process following the 2010 census. Representation for Moab at the State House is currently divided between Representatives Christine Watkins and Carl Albrecht.

“This dilutes Grand County’s influence in elections, so we want to make sure that the mistake is not repeated in the 2021 redistricting,’ says the commission agenda item summary prepared by Walker.

The commission also adopted the stance that “Grand County shares interests with both San Juan County to the south and Carbon and Emery counties to the north. We should be grouped with these counties for districting purposes.”

“I've heard similar sentiment from the community,” said Clapper as he moved to approve both stances.

Some community leaders in San Juan County do not share the sentiment that Grand and San Juan counties belong together: at a Sept. 3 public hearing held by the UIRC in Monticello, some attendees asked not to be grouped with Grand County.

“I do feel like Grand County and San Juan County are very different,” said Monticello City Councilmember Kim Henderson at that meeting. “In a lot of ways, I would say that we’re polar opposites. To me it doesn’t make sense to bunch us with somebody that we have very few similarities with.”

Legislative redistricting meeting

The Legislative Redistricting Committee held a public hearing at the Grand Center on Oct. 6. The body explained the importance of redistricting and described how to use its public mapping tool, which uses a software called ESRI. Members of the public can submit maps for senate, house, and school board districts for the whole state, can comment on existing maps, and can submit written comments and describe communities of interest.

Public comments at the meeting echoed those made a previous redistricting meetings: a San Juan County resident attended to say she would like to see Grand and San Juan counties in separate state districts; a teacher spoke to discuss the importance of making school districts fair. Walker attended the meeting to express the county commission’s stances as agreed upon at the Oct. 4 commission meeting, and added, in response to the San Juan County resident’s remark, that while the two counties are very different, they have more concerns in common than most other Utah counties. They share the La Sal Mountains and other recreational areas; subdivisions in northern San Juan County use Moab area services and are part of Grand County communities; the share the major travel corridor of Highway 191. Phil Lyman, a San Juan County resident and State House Representative, said he thought combining San Juan County with other counties to the west, rather than Grand, would not be problematic. He also discussed his belief that each county should have a representative in the state legislature, a view also expressed during the UIRC meeting in Monticello.

Members of the legislative committee thanked residents for their participation and urged people to submit maps. The more input the body has from the public, they said, the better they will be able to serve the public.

UIRC Moab public hearing

UIRC Communications officer Julianne Kidd said the UIRC hopes that the public will share the same input with the independent body that they share with the legislative committee. Kidd also encourages the public to peruse already-submitted maps before the meetings, so they can comment on specific recommendations.

The UIRC mapping tool can be accessed through uirc.utah.gov. The legislative committee is using the same software to accept maps and comments; to reach the legislative mapping site, visit redistricting.utah.gov.