Locals invited to try their hand at drawing Grand’s next voting districts
A rule of thumb for assessing whether a local voting district map is legal is testing whether the largest and smallest district are both within 10% of the ideal size.
In Grand County, the smallest voting district for the county commission is nearly 35% smaller than ideal, and the two largest are roughly 15% too large.
That is set to change this year or possibly next, depending on the timing of the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of population data.
The census data provides enumerations of precisely how many people live on any given block in the United States. The data is used to draw voting districts from the federal to local levels, but the pandemic has caused their release to come months late this year.
The U.S. Census Bureau said in February that it planned to release this redistricting data by September 30.
Not only does that push back the date Grand County will have the most vital data it needs to begin redistricting; it pushes back the date when the state can start its own redistricting process.
Ideally though, the state redistricting process won’t influence Grand County’s own redistricting process, according to Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker.
Walker said that there is “absolutely no reason” that a state-level district would cut Grand County or Moab into parts, as is currently the case with the Utah House of Representative districts. Doing so, he said, would constitute “deliberate, partisan gerrymandering,” or an effort to unfairly advantage one political party over another.
The reason there is “no justification,” in Walker’s words, for splitting Grand County into parts for state-level districts is the same reason it would not make sense to split up a Moab neighborhood for county-level districts. The idea is called communities of interest.
A community of interest in Moab is a group of people who share a common set of concerns that may be affected by local legislation.
A neighborhood can constitute a community of concern. Residents of Walnut Lane, for example, share interests; residents of the Mountain View neighborhood share their own interests.
To identify local communities of interest, Grand County has hired a consultant to help gather public input on redistricting. The group, a set of researchers from Tufts University, now has a website where locals can go provide that input:
On the website, residents can submit written feedback on what they would like to see in Grand’s voting districts; they can describe a community of interest they see in Moab; or they can even submit a voting district map.
Following the release this fall or late summer of Census redistricting data, county officials and the researchers from Tufts will review the data, the public input gathered through the website, input from groups like the local Republican and Democratic parties, and more before deciding on the county’s next district map.
Ideally, Walker said, the map will be supported (or, at least, not strongly opposed) across political and demographic divides in the county and fairly represent the various constituencies that exist across Grand County.
At the very least, the new map is expected to be a vast improvement over the current one, which is based on 1990 census data.