SALT LAKE CITY – A glitch in a Utah County precinct map not only cost a lawmaker his position. It's meant affected voters have cast ballots in the wrong congressional and state Senate districts for the last decade, too.
"It definitely has a lot of people upset," said Cedar Hills Mayor Eric Richardson, one of some 3,000 residents who live in a portion of the two precincts that were actually part of other voting districts according to the state.
No one noticed, apparently, until last Friday, when former Rep. Craig Frank entered his address into a new House website and another representative's picture popped up.
It turns out that Frank, a Republican representative since 2003 who moved from Pleasant Grove to a newly developed area of Cedar Hills last year, actually lives outside his district and thus can no longer hold his legislative seat.
Utah County GOP delegates in District 57 are set to name someone to fill the vacancy. Gov. Gary Herbert is still looking at calling a special session to fix the boundary issue before the 2011 Legislature begins Jan. 24, which would allow Frank to try to reclaim his seat. But it wasn't clear Tuesday whether there is support from the majority GOP.
House Republicans voted down a motion in their caucus Tuesday to ask the governor to call the special session, which has been criticized as an attempt to protect a political ally of new House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
"We want to make sure the people affected by this are the ones that speak," House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said. He said he did not know if there were enough votes to pass the change in a special session.
While the House debated whether to push for a special session for some two hours during a break in pre-session budget meetings, the Senate did not take a position.
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he's leaning toward supporting a special session to "re-enfranchise these people so they get a voice. Because right now they are being represented by someone they didn't have the opportunity to vote for."
Valentine said he found out Tuesday he did not represent all of Cedar Hills because the portion of the pair of precincts in question are actually in fellow Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson's Draper-area district.
"I've been mailing things to that area for a lot of years. I think it was a surprise that no one caught it before now," Valentine said. "I don't see it as anything intentional. It was just an oversight."
Also affected by the inaccurate precinct boundaries are the 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts. Cedar Hills residents outside the boundaries voted in the 3rd District, represented by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, but are actually in Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's district.
Matheson narrowly defeated GOP challenger Morgan Philpot in November, but Philpot said Tuesday the extra votes he may have received from the Cedar Hills precincts wouldn't have made a difference.
"I think it's an honest mistake that can be corrected," Philpot said. "I don't feel slighted in the least in my race. But I think for the sake of that district, Rep. Frank deserves a fair shake."
Richardson, the Cedar Hills mayor, said he and the other voters affected are anxious for a solution. By Tuesday afternoon, he said he'd already heard from some 50 area residents who want a special session called.
"It seems pretty clear it's just a clerical error, so fixing it seems to be the right thing," he said. "I don't know if most people want to get into finger pointing as along as we can solve the problem."
Utah County Clerk/Auditor Brian Thompson said the boundaries were incorrectly set because county officials believed the districts were to include all of Cedar Hills. The area at the mouth of American Fork Canyon, largely undeveloped at the time, was being annexed into the city.
"It's just a small area that has grown," Thompson said. He said there now are about 2,550 residents in the area, and an estimated 600 or so case the wrong ballot last November.
State officials said it was the county's responsibility to draw their precinct maps with the correct boundaries as set by the Legislature.
"That level of detail just doesn't come through to us," said state Elections Director Mark Thomas. "We're not involved with any of the maps."
But Thomas said that will change when lawmakers meet later this year to once again set new district boundaries, this time based on the 2010 census. Now, he said, all counties must share data with the lieutenant governor's office.1 comment on this story
Democrats are looking for a way to get the second-place finisher in last November's House District 57 race appointed to the vacancy — their candidate, retired state worker Jim Crismon.
The Utah Democratic Party has hired former Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch to see if it's worth taking the issue to court. Hatch said it's too soon to tell.
Crismon said he wasn't sure what kind of chance he'd have against the state's predominant political party, which holds all but 17 of the 75 legislative seats.
Crimson said there should be room for him. "What's one more Democrat?"