Utah lawmakers to tweak new House, Senate and State School Board districts

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 25 2012 12:36 a.m. MST

ROOSEVELT — Lora Murphy and her husband have lived in their home for the past 38 years. Besides their place, there's only one other house on the two-lane road just outside the Roosevelt city limits.

The five registered voters living in the two houses on 1000 South make up an entire voting precinct under the legislative maps that became law in October.

"I've never heard of such a thing," Murphy said Tuesday when told about the unusual situation. "That doesn't make a bit of sense."

Turns out the redistricting work the Utah Legislature did last fall isn't quite done.

Lawmakers need to fix about 60 state Senate, House and State School Board district boundaries after county clerks discovered discrepancies between census blocks and aerial photographs. Though most of the changes were described as minor, a handful could affect as many as 300 people in some areas.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, though, won't touch the controversial congressional maps over which Democrats have threatened to sue.

"We told county clerks we are not changing congressional lines," said Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, House chairman of the state Redistricting Committee.

Legislators redrew the boundaries to reflect the 2010 Census, which Duchesne County chief deputy clerk JoAnn Evans blames for the problems.

"They followed a river or a power line or something that was there 100 years ago, but isn't now," she said. "I wish they would work more closely with us. It's been a nightmare following their lines."

County clerks from throughout Utah submitted 111 proposed changes to the district maps, once they were signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. The state elections office rejected about 40 of those changes and gave county elections officials authority to make minor adjustments to the lines in 14 instances.

Legislators intend to fast-track bills to make the corrections — which impact 12 of Utah's 29 counties — to meet a Jan. 31 deadline for counties to certify new districts and voting precincts. Clerks also must notify political party leaders of the boundaries for the purpose of assigning delegates for upcoming caucuses and conventions.

"Most of the changes are very small areas," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, Senate chairman of the Redistricting Committee. "In most cases there are zero population changes."

Kelli Lundgren, president of the nonpartisan citizens group Represent Me Utah!, said she still hadn't had a chance to study the proposed technical changes Tuesday afternoon. She offered her conditional support for the bills.

"If they are actually making these changes, I'm very happy to see it happening," Lundgren said, adding that to her it's ironic that lawmakers are having to revisit the redistricting issue.

"They could have done a lot to keep cities and keep communities together that they didn't follow through on" during the initial redistricting effort, she said.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, said lawmakers went through an "agonizing" process to draw the boundaries.

"I have concerns when we move a few hundred people here and a couple hundred people there," she said, adding she worries that state may open itself to a lawsuit.

"I just don't want the courts to decide," Newbold said. "We made some tough decisions."

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she doesn't expect the changes to be controversial. "It's just technical stuff," she said.

Mark Thomas, state elections director, spent Tuesday morning meeting with lawmakers from both parties to explain the need for the corrections.

"We spent days looking at each and every change," he said.

"You look at the reasons for the (proposed technical) changes and it's hard to argue against them," Thomas said. "We have the technology to look at these issues and correct them before they do become a Craig Frank issue."

Frank, a member of the Utah House since 2003, found out in January 2011 he did not live within his district, as required by state law, when he entered his name into a new House website and the face of another lawmaker came up on his computer screen.

The area of Cedar Hills he moved into in 2009 was undeveloped and being annexed into the city during the redistricting that followed the 2000 Census. Since then, some 2,550 residents have been listed in the wrong House, Senate and congressional districts.

Frank, who now lives within the boundaries of House District 57, returned to the Legislature this month, replacing Holly Richardson, who resigned to work on former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist's U.S. Senate campaign. Richardson had replaced Frank when he left office.

Contributing: Marjorie Cortez

Email: romboy@desnews.com; gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy; GeoffLiesik

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