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KEEPING HOUSE 10/24/2011

The once-per-decade legislative redistricting process for the State of Utah is now concluded. The special legislative session lasted much longer than anticipated due to disagreements between the Utah House and Senate over the boundary maps for U.S. congressional districts.

Recent population growth gave Utah a new fourth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, so the maps of the current three House districts within the state had to be completely redrawn. Each of the four new districts is required to contain approximately 691,000 people.

Because the vast majority of the population in Utah is centered in a 100-mile strip along the Wasatch Front, each of the new House districts needed to include some of these urban areas.

From the beginning of the redistricting process this past spring, I supported the idea of including both urban and rural locations in each House district. I felt this was important because of the crucial role that public lands play in the economy and government of our state.

Two-thirds of all land in Utah is owned by the federal government. I believe our representatives in Congress need to be influenced by concerns for efficient and responsible use of these lands.

Most of the final maps that were considered by the Utah Legislature for congressional boundaries had an urban/rural mix to a greater or lesser extent.

After months of emphasizing the importance of the urban/rural mix, I did not feel the final proposed map appropriately balanced these areas. The new Fourth District, for example, centered primarily in Salt Lake and Utah counties, contains very little rural and public land.

I instead preferred maps that took each of the new House districts all the way to the state line equally on all sides of the state, so I voted no on the final proposal.

But overall, I believe the new congressional districts will serve the citizens and the state of Utah reasonably well for the next ten years.

As for the state legislature, Wasatch County was divided into three different Senate districts, while Duchesne County was placed in three separate House districts.

Although I would have liked to see the current boundaries for state House and Senate maintained, the population growth in this region of the state made that impossible.

I believe that the boundaries that were settled upon for state legislature will allow Duchesne, Wasatch and Uintah counties the opportunity to have many strong voices at Utah's Capitol.

Two days after redistricting ended, the legislature met for monthly interim committee meetings. In the Government Operations Committee, where I am co-chair, I presented a bill that sparked considerable discussion and some opposition.

Under the bill that I am proposing, county clerks would be given additional authority to remove outdated names from voter registration records.

After each election in Utah, we hear statistics regarding voter turnout, which rarely exceeds 50 percent, and sometimes is as low as 20 percent. Voter turnout is measured by dividing the number of people who show up to vote by the total number of registered voters.

As I have studied this problem, I have learned that many of the names on our voter rolls are inaccurate. In preparing for campaigns, I have noticed that the voter records include people who have moved, died or never even lived in the precinct.

These inaccuracies artificially depress our voter turnout statistics, because we are expecting people to vote who don't even live in the area. We make very little effort to encourage citizens to update their voter registration information regularly.

My bill proposes this simple procedure: If a voter listed on the rolls fails to vote for two consecutive general elections (four years), the county clerk would be required to mail a postcard to the voter's address. The postcard would ask the voter to contact the county clerk to confirm that the voter still lives at that address in the precinct or else to update the records with a new address.

If the voter does not respond, the county clerk must then wait for two more consecutive general elections (four more years). If the voter votes during that time period, or contacts the county clerk, he or she will remain on the rolls. If the voter still does not vote, and does not contact the clerk, the name will be removed from the rolls after the eighth year.

Many legislators expressed opposition to my proposal, arguing that citizens should have the right to be left alone and should not have their names removed from the rolls simply because they don't vote and don't respond to the postcard. The bill passed the committee on a split vote, and now goes to the full House and Senate.

I would like to know what you think about this proposal. You can contact me about this or any other issues by email at kraigpowell@utah.gov or by phone at 435-657-0185.


BY REPRESENTATIVE KRAIG POWELL   10/23/2011



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