On Wednesday the Fair Boundaries Coalition officially kicked off their petition drive at the Utah State Capitol. The first two signatures on the petition were from retired Republican Congressman Jim Hansen and Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. While in many ways, especially in terms of bipartisan support, this event should be considered a success, it exemplified one of the most fundamental problems we face in politics, not only in Utah but also nationwide: lack of citizen involvement.
As Mayor Corroon stated in his address, people are disillusioned with the process. As voting districts are redrawn to serve partisan political ends and to entrench incumbent positions, people lose faith in the power of their own voices and votes. Unfortunately, this institutional attempt at disenfranchisement is successful because many people stop going to the polls. As participation decreases, the integrity of the entire political system is diminished. Democracy only works when an informed citizenry actively participates in the process.
While there were several media outlets present, as well as the Fair Boundaries Coalition organizers, public attendance was disappointingly low. This could be attributed to a number of factors, not the least of which is holding the event mid-morning on a work day. But it is not just this issue that has seen an apparent lack of participation. Utah’s voting rate is among the nation’s lowest, a fact which many say is indicative of general voter dissatisfaction with the political process.
What then, is the solution? The obvious answer is to increase citizen participation in the process. That, however, is much easier said than done, although initiatives like Fair Boundaries are a great place to start. This initiative, although not legally binding upon the Legislature, is aimed at providing a more realistic level of representation for all Utahns. It aims to redraw Utah’s electoral map based upon population and community factors instead of partisan political goals.
When elected officials are tasked to draw their own boundaries there is no way to avoid the perception of impropriety, even if the redistricting is handled properly and ethically. This perception of impropriety is what creates disillusionment and ultimately disenfranchisement.
For voters feeling disenfranchised, this is the perfect opportunity to turn the tide, to stand up and be counted. The petition will require roughly 95,000 signatures, which represents a significant portion of Utah’s electorate.
This petition and the initiative behind it are a chance for everyone to have their say on how Utah’s elections are conducted and how our communities are represented. It transcends typical single issue grass-roots campaigns because of the lasting impact it can have on the political process. In short, this is an opportunity for Utah’s voters to once and for all take charge of Utah’s electoral future and to ensure honest and fair apportionment of government representation.Bob Henline is a social and political activist and resident of Tooele County, Utah.