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Biden administration moves to protect Alaska wilderness; opening statements and first witness in NY trial; SCOTUS hears Starbucks case, with implications for unions on the line; rural North Carolina town gets pathway to home ownership.

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The Supreme Court weighs cities ability to manage a growing homelessness crisis, anti-Israeli protests spread to college campuses nationwide, and more states consider legislation to ban firearms at voting sites and ballot drop boxes.

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Report: UT gets 'C minus' grade for redistricting policies

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Monday, October 16, 2023   

A new report rates how states are managing their redistricting policies, and the State of Utah didn't fare so well.

The national watchdog group Common Cause gives Utah an overall grade of C-minus for the way it draws state and congressional voting-district maps.

In 2018, Utah voters passed Proposition Four, which led to the creation of an advisory commission and some new standards to draw voting maps based on public input.

But two years later, "Prop Four" was repealed, allowing the Utah Legislature to reject the commission's maps.

Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director with Common Cause, said the process in states like Utah now lacks transparency.

"What we learned was who draws districts really matters," said Vicuña. "In places where you had legislatures in control of the process - in particular, in places where one party was in control of the process - you saw incredible secrecy, not much interest in seeking public feedback."

Earlier this year, the Utah Supreme Court stepped in to examine whether legal action was needed after the Legislature decided to divide Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County into four congressional districts.

A 2022 lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Utah says they were "an illegal partisan gerrymander under Utah state law." No word on when the ruling is expected.

The Common Cause report finds the final maps from the legislative committee didn't reflect public input, while the separate advisory commission process had substantial public engagement.

The independent commission had close to 600 maps submitted, a thousand general comments, and about 2,000 comments on specific maps.

Vicuña added that he's worked with redistricting for nine years and has noticed a shift in public understanding of the issue.

"When I first started, it tended to be slightly more of a niche issue," said Vicuña, "but there has been increasing understanding of the relationship to the way voting maps are drawn and the ability of the public to fight for the resources that their communities need."

The report recommends independent redistricting commissions need the final word on adopting electoral maps, to limit the use of redistricting for political advantage.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.




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