Voting Rights Groups Sue to Ensure All Utah Voters Have a Voice
Salt Lake City, UT – Today, League of Women Voters of Utah (LWVUT), Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG) and individual voters filed a lawsuit to block Utah from implementing a congressional redistricting map that constitutes an extreme partisan gerrymander and to reinstate the citizen-led initiative that established an independent redistricting commission and binding anti-gerrymandering requirements.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) partnered with Utah attorneys from Parr Brown Gee & Loveless and Zimmerman Booher to file the lawsuit on behalf of the voting rights groups and individual voters who have had their voting strength diluted and voices silenced by the gerrymandered map and the repeal of their redistricting reform initiative.
LWVUT and MWEG, joined by attorneys and individual plaintiffs, will hold a press conference today at 12:30pm Mountain Time/2:30pm Eastern Time outside the Utah State Capitol Building to discuss the lawsuit.
Utah voters passed a bipartisan citizen initiative called Proposition 4 (Prop 4), popularly known as Better Boundaries, in 2018. Among other reforms, the initiative prohibited partisan gerrymandering and established the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission (Commission). Independent redistricting commissions are a voter-centric reform used to ensure voters – not partisan politicians – decide how electoral districts are drawn. These nonpartisan commissions are an important tool to ensure voters choose their politicians, instead of politicians choosing their voters.
In 2020, the Utah Legislature overruled the will of voters and repealed Proposition 4 to replace it with SB 200, which rescinded the prohibition on partisan gerrymandering. As a result, the Utah Legislature had free reign to draw congressional maps that served their own self-interests, instead of the interests of voters. Before the Commission could even finish its work, the Legislature disregarded the Commission’s findings and devised their own extreme partisan gerrymandered maps, which lock in one-party control of Utah’s congressional delegation for the next decade while silencing voters with minority political viewpoints.
The Utah Legislature’s map, called the 2021 Congressional Plan, exemplifies how a ruling political party can skew the electoral process by “cracking” voters from the minority party into multiple congressional districts to dilute their voting power. The 2021 Congressional Plan carves up Salt Lake County, home to Utah’s largest concentration of non-Republican voters, among all four congressional districts – reliably ensuring that there are no competitive districts in Utah’s congressional delegation for the foreseeable future.
“Elections should be determined by voters, not by politicians who draw maps to serve their own political interests. Independent redistricting commissions, like the one created through Proposition 4, are a pro-voter reform that helps ensure voters are the ones who decide how the electoral districts are drawn,” said Paul Smith, senior vice president at Campaign Legal Center. “Utah’s courts can help make sure every vote counts and every voice is heard by blocking the implementation of the gerrymandered congressional map and reinstating Proposition 4’s critical redistricting reforms.”
“Unfair maps and gerrymandering dilute the voices of communities and consequently hurt voters of all parties,” said Catherine Weller, President of League of Women Voters of Utah. “As a nonpartisan organization, our focus is on the voters and ensuring that every voice is heard. Transparency is critical to the election process; we call on the court to block these unfair maps and let the voters of Utah choose who best represents them.”
“The reason we are participating in this litigation is simple. Our work at MWEG is dedicated to the idea that each of us has both the right and the responsibility to participate in government. To do that, we need our votes to matter. Everything flows from that. We hope this litigation will make it possible for all Utahns to be able to cast votes that matter,” said Wendy Dennehy, MWEG Senior Director of Advocacy, Voting Rights and Ethics.
The suit against the Utah State Legislature and other defendants was filed on behalf of LWVUT, MWEG and seven plaintiffs who live in Salt Lake County. It argues that the new congressional map cracks voters from minority viewpoints to dilute their power, which violates the Utah Constitution’s Free Elections Clause, Uniform Operation of Laws Clause, and enshrined protections for free speech and the right to vote. Additionally, the Legislature’s repeal of Proposition 4 violated Utahns’ constitutionally guaranteed lawmaking power and right to reform their government.
The lawsuit asks the court to block implementation of the partisan gerrymandered map outlined in the 2021 Congressional Plan for the 2024 election, and all future elections, and asks the court to reinstate Proposition 4.
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