Stories about Utah

Utah enacts new legislative maps

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed new state legislative district maps for both chambers into law on Nov. 16, 2021. After Cox called a special session to begin on Nov. 9, the Utah legislature voted to approve the House and Senate district maps on Nov. 10. The House passed a proposed map of their own districts in a 60-12 vote and voted 58-13 to approve the Senate map proposal. The Senate approved the House district proposal in a 25-3 vote and approved their own proposed map in a 26-2 vote. These maps take effect for Utah’s 2022 legislative elections.

Both proposals differed from those presented to the legislative committee by Utah’s Independent Redistricting Commission on Nov. 1. The commission presented 12 maps (three each for House, Senate, congressional, and school board districts) to the Legislative Redistricting Committee, one of which was submitted by a citizen.

Lynette Wendel (D), who lost the election to represent Utah House District 39, said the districts were drawn to maintain Republicans’ majorities in the state legislature. “It was a very strategic approach so that very few people who have an insulated agenda can force that agenda continuously on this state,” Wendel said. Summit County Democratic Party Chair Katy Owens (D) said, “We would love to be able to have the opportunity to elect the representatives that we want but these maps have been deliberately drawn to prevent that.”

Sen. Scott Sandall (R), who along with Rep. Paul Ray (R) co-chaired the Legislative Redistricting Committee, said the new maps were drawn with citizens’ interests in mind. “After listening to Utahns and touring the state, Rep. Ray and I created maps that we believe incorporate the interests of all Utahns,” Sandall said. Ray said the legislature, not the Independent Redistricting Commission, “has the constitutional responsibility to divide the state into electoral districts” and he and Sandall “have worked tirelessly to come up with boundaries that best represent the diverse interests of the people we were elected to represent.”

As of Nov. 17, 20 states have adopted legislative district maps, one state enacted its legislative boundaries based on Census estimates which will be revised in an upcoming special session, and 29 states have not yet adopted legislative redistricting plans after the 2020 census. At this point after the 2010 census, 29 states had enacted legislative maps.

Nationwide, legislative redistricting has been completed for 687 of 1,972 state Senate seats (34.8%) and 1,780 of 5,411 state House seats (32.9%).

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Nevada and Utah hold special legislative sessions for redistricting

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting updates from Nevada and Utah.

Nevada: On Nov. 11, 2021, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announced a special session to address redistricting would begin on Nov. 12. Legislators are expected to debate the congressional and state legislative maps released on Nov. 9.

Utah: The Utah legislature began its special session focused on redistricting on Nov. 9. The House passed a congressional district map proposal on the first day of the session, and the Senate followed a day later. Both chambers also approved legislative district plans for the House and Senate on Nov. 10. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed the congressional districts into law on Nov. 12, but as of Nov. 15, he had not signed the legislative map proposals.

Redistricting committees appointed, adjourned, and change in Ohio, New Mexico, and Utah

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting committee updates from Ohio, New Mexico, and Utah.

In Ohio, the state legislature announced members of the Joint Committee on Redistricting, which will be holding two hearings on congressional redistricting proposals before the Nov. 30 deadline for map enactment. The committee’s members are Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R), Sen. Rob McColley (R), Sen. Vernon Sykes (D), Rep. Beth Liston (D), Rep. Scott Oelslager (R), and Rep. Shane Wilkin (R). Sykes is the only member of the joint committee who was also a member of the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee adjourned on Oct. 29 after submitting its final set of map recommendations to the legislature. The commission’s proposals do not bind the state legislature, which retains the authority to adopt, amend, or discard the proposals as it sees fit. Additionally, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has veto authority over the maps. The legislature is expected to convene in December to begin considering proposals.

In Utah, former U.S. Rep. Bob Bishop (R-Utah) resigned from the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission on Oct. 26. Bishop said the commission favored urban areas and that the commission “is a metro-centric group. […] The majority are from Salt Lake County, we see things in a different way.” The executive director of Better Boundaries, an organization that supported the ballot proposition creating the commission, said: “We are encouraged by the work of the remaining six commissioners to suggest objective and qualified maps to the state legislative redistricting committee through this fair and transparent process.” On Oct. 29, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson (R) appointed former Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food Logan Wilde (R) to replace Bishop on the commission.

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Salt Lake City to use ranked-choice voting for the first time in November election

The general election for Salt Lake City, Utah, is on Nov. 2. The election will be the first time the city uses a ranked-choice voting system. After the Utah State Legislature gave cities the option to use ranked-choice voting, the Salt Lake City Council opted into the program in April 2021.

Candidates are competing for five seats on the seven-seat city council. Districts 1, 3, 5, and 7 are holding regular elections for a four-year term, while District 2 is holding a special election to fill a two-year term.

In a ranked-choice voting election, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

A primary election had originally been scheduled for Aug. 10 but was canceled when the city council voted to institute ranked-choice voting.

Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah. Ballotpedia covers elections for mayor, city council, and district attorney in all U.S. capitals.

Redistricting timeline updates: Colorado and Utah face deadlines, Pennsylvania holds public hearings

Here’s a summary of recent redistricting timeline updates from Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

Colorado: After the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission approved state legislative map proposals to be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court for review on Oct. 11 (House map) and 12 (Senate map), the deadline for the court to either approve or send back the plans is Nov. 15.

Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) Redistricting Advisory Council continues to hold public hearings on redistricting. Upcoming dates and locations are listed below:

  1. 11:00 a.m. Oct. 27: Penn State Behrend, Pat Black III Conference Center,

Erie, PA

  1. 11:00 a.m. Oct. 29: Drexel University, Creese Student Center, Philadelphia, PA
  2. 11:00 a.m. Nov. 1: Penn State Main Campus, HUB-Robeson Center, University Park, PA
  3. 5:30 p.m. Nov. 3: Mansfield University, Manser Hall, Mansfield, PA

Utah: The Utah Independent Redistricting Commission has until Nov. 1 to submit its full report containing proposed congressional districts, Utah Senate and House districts, and school board districts to the legislature.

Redistricting review: Virginia House of Delegates candidate sues over 2021 elections using existing maps (and other news)

Virginia: On June 28, Paul Goldman, a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, filed suit against Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the Virginia State Board of Elections (among other state officials), asking that a U.S. District Court declare the Nov. 3, 2021, elections for the House of Delegates invalid, limit the terms of delegates elected in 2021 to one year, and order new elections to take place in 2022. Because members of the House of Delegates serve two-year terms, a court order to this effect would result in elections in three consecutive years: 2021, 2022, and 2023.

The Constitution of Virginia requires that elections for the House of Delegates take place every two years on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Regularly scheduled elections occur in odd-numbered years. Because of the delayed release of U.S. Census redistricting data, redistricting authorities in Virginia were unable to draft new legislative district maps for this year’s elections. Consequently, existing maps will remain in force. Goldman argues that conducting the 2021 elections under the existing maps violates both the state and federal constitutions. Citing Cosner v. Dalton, a 1981 decision in which a federal court ordered the terms of delegates elected in 1981 under invalid maps be limited to one year, Goldman is asking that the court limit the terms of delegates elected in 2021 to one year and schedule elections under new maps in 2022.

In his complaint, Goldman said, “According to Cosner, plaintiff’s protected core political rights should allow him to run for the House of Delegates in 2022, not being forced to wait until 2023 due to the failure of the appropriate state authorities to adhere to the requirements of the federal constitution.”

Del. Marcus Simon (D), who serves on the Virginia Redistricting Committee, said the Cosner precedent does not necessarily apply to this situation: “In the 1980s, we deprived people of their civil rights, we had racially improper districts. Given the circumstances for why we don’t have districts today, I don’t know that the same urgency would apply.”

Utah: On June 30, the Utah State Legislature announced an anticipated timeline for congressional and state legislative redistricting. Under that timeline, the Legislative Redistricting Committee will hold public hearings in September and October and adopt final maps before Thanksgiving.

Wisconsin: On June 30, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reverse a lower court’s ruling that barred them from hiring private attorneys in anticipation of challenges to the redistricting process. The court set a July 8 deadline for briefs from all parties involved in the matter.

On April 29, Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled against Vos and LeMahieu and in favor of the plaintiffs, four Madison, Wisc., residents who argued that state law prohibits legislative leaders from hiring attorneys from outside the Wisconsin Department of Justice before a lawsuit has been filed. Vos and LeMahieu appealed that decision to a state appellate court, which declined to stay Ehlke’s original order. This prompted the present appeal pending before the state supreme court.

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Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) signs bill increasing initiative signature distribution requirements

On April 17, Gov. Brad Little (R) signed Senate Bill 1110. The bill changed the state’s distribution requirement for ballot initiative and veto referendum signature petitions to require signatures from 6% of voters from all 35 legislative districts instead of the previous requirement of 6% of voters from 18 of the state’s legislative districts.

With SB 1110 signed into law, Idaho joined Utah and South Dakota in passing bills restricting the states’ initiative processes so far in 2021.

Ballotpedia has tracked 124 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 34 states in 2021 legislative sessions. Approved bills include significant changes that would make it harder to qualify or pass ballot measures in Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah. Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include supermajority requirement increases, signature requirement or distribution requirement increases, single-subject rules, and pay-per-signature bans.

In 2019, the Idaho Legislature passed, but Gov. Little vetoed, a pair of bills that were designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, among other changes. The legislature did not override Gov. Little’s vetoes in 2019.

In 2021, both chambers of the legislature passed SB 1110 by more than the two-thirds majority required to override a veto: 26-9 in the Senate and 51-18 in the House.

Reclaim Idaho filed a lawsuit against SB 1110 and filed an initiative designed to repeal the bill. Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, said, “This makes citizen initiatives virtually impossible in Idaho. Under this legislation, we’re not likely to see another initiative like Medicaid expansion from 2018 or like the term limits initiative from the 1990’s. So we are very disappointed with Governor Little. […] This fight is not over because this legislation is clearly unconstitutional, and our organization, Reclaim Idaho, has decided to file a lawsuit and to ask the courts to strike down this legislation and to protect the citizen initiative rights of all the people of Idaho.”

Representative Sage Dixon (R) supported SB 1110. Dixon said, “Every district in Idaho should be represented in that process. This is an effort to protect the voice of everybody in Idaho in the lawmaking process, very similar to what we do here as representatives, and what the senators do as well.”

Governor Little’s statement on SB 1110 wrote, “whether senate bill 1110 amounts to an impermissible restriction in violation of our constitution is highly fact-dependent and, ultimately, a question for the Idaho judiciary to decide. I also expect the federal courts may be called to determine whether senate bill 1110 violates the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Ballot measures proposed in response to coronavirus and emergency powers

The coronavirus pandemic has shaped the political landscape of the United States, including the powers of governors and state legislatures. Changes have been proposed in response to the pandemic or pandemic-related regulations and restrictions. Some of these changes, such as state constitutional amendments, require ballot measures for ratification. Others are citizen-initiated proposals, meaning campaigns collect signatures to put proposals on the ballot for voters to decide.

As of March 12, three constitutional amendments related to coronavirus events and conflicts have been certified for future ballots in two states—Pennsylvania and Utah. Voters in Pennsylvania will decide the ballot measures on May 18, 2021. Both of the ballot measures resulted from conflicts between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the governor’s emergency powers and the legislature’s role in emergency orders. One proposal would limit the governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days unless the legislature votes to extend the order. The other amendment would allow the legislature to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, to terminate the governor’s emergency declaration.

In Utah, voters will decide a constitutional amendment on appropriations limits at the general election in 2022. The ballot measure, which received bipartisan support in the Utah State Legislature, would increase the size of appropriations permitted during an emergency and exempt emergency federal funding from the appropriations limit. 

There are also proposed constitutional amendments and ballot initiatives that could make the ballot in at least 5 additional states. In Arizona, the Senate passed an amendment to limit the governor’s emergency declarations to 30 days unless the legislature votes to extend them. The Arizona House voted to refer a ballot measure that would allow the legislature to modify or terminate the governor’s emergency order. Other citizen-initiated measures related to the governor’s emergency powers have been filed in California, Maine, and Michigan.

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Utah to vote in 2022 on increasing the limit on appropriations the state legislature can make in an emergency session

The Utah State Legislature adjourned its 2021 session on March 5, 2021, after approving a constitutional amendment that would increase the limit on appropriations the state legislature can make in an emergency session. It would increase the limit on appropriations from 1% to 5% of the total amount appropriated by the Legislature for the immediately preceding completed fiscal year. It would also eliminate the limit on how much spending the legislature could cut during a special session. The measure would also exempt federal funding from the appropriations limit. Voters will decide the amendment on November 8, 2022.

In Utah, both chambers of the state legislature need to pass a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds vote during one legislative session to refer it to the ballot.

The amendment was introduced into the legislature as House Joint Resolution 12 on February 9, 2021. The House approved the measure on February 25, 2021, by a vote of 68 to 5 with two members absent or not voting. The Senate passed the measure unanimously on March 5, 2021.

The amendment was proposed in response to special legislative sessions in 2020 convened to deal with the COVID-19 emergency declarations. Voters approved an amendment in 2018 to allow the legislature to call a special session. The 2018 amendment also put the 1% limit on appropriations and cuts. State Rep. Bradley G. Last, the measure’s sponsor, said, “What we learned in that process is that we didn’t give ourselves enough flexibility. […] As you will recall we had to call ourselves into special session several times in order to accomplish what we needed to accomplish last year. So we came to a little better understanding of the emergency situation that might present itself.”

Between 2000 and 2020, 39 constitutional amendments were referred to the ballot by the state legislature, of which 89.74% (35) were approved and 10.26% (4) were defeated.

Weber County Democrats recommend Rosemary Lesser for Utah House

On Jan. 16, the Weber County Democrats recommended Rosemary Lesser (D) to the Utah House of Representatives to represent District 10. LaWanna Shurtliff (D) formerly held the seat until her death on Dec. 30, 2020. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) approved the nomination, and Lesser was sworn in on Jan. 19. She will complete Shurtliff’s term, which was set to run from Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022.  

Prior to her appointment, Lesser has served as a laborist with Ogden Clinic since 2015. She has also worked as an OB hospitalist and an obstetrician/gynecologist, both as a civilian and in the U.S. Air Force. Lesser earned a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

According to Utah law, the governor is responsible for selecting a replacement. A liaison for the political party that last held the seat must recommend a successor to the governor and the vacancy must be filled immediately. The person who is selected to the vacant seat serves for the remainder of the unfilled term.

Utah is one of six states where the governor appoints a successor by law, but the political party holds the real power of appointment, as opposed to states where the governor is the sole appointer. The other five states are Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

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