Boundary confusion

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Congratulations to Holly Richardson, aka Holly on the Hill, a conservative Utah political blogger, mom of 20, and political activist who was named by a special Republican convention to fill an unexpected vacancy in the Utah House of Representatives.

The vacancy occurred because the recently re-elected incumbent representative discovered, while using an online "find your legislator" address-lookup tool, that his state rep was someone other than himself.

State Rep. Craig Frank represented the district since 2003. In 2009 he planned to move from Pleasant Grove to Cedar Hills. County maps then showed that the new location was within the 57th. So he moved.

Early this month, however, he was fiddling with the House's new website, which has a useful feature. You can type in your address, and it tells you what district you live in. Frank did so, and up popped ... a picture of Rep. John Dougall. Uh-oh. Dougall represents House District 27.

Inquiries indicated that old county maps didn't jibe with the official state map of district boundaries. Frank apparently lived outside his district. To his credit, he immediately reported this. His seat was declared vacant.

The source of the problem: The district boundaries were defined in terms of city limits, which changed about the time the redistricting law was passed.

The law's text says the legislative boundary is the Cedar Hills city limit; but the accompanying map draws the boundary along outdated borders from before the time Frank's property was annexed, thus putting his property outside Cedar Hills.

So does "city limit" refer to the actual city boundary, or to the line labeled "city limit" on the map? One could argue either way. The first option puts Frank in District 57; the second seemingly puts him in the 27th.

Oklahoma redistricting is not likely to run afoul of the same problem, as redistricting legislation makes reference to census block numbers, which are defined prior to the decennial census by the U. S. Census Bureau and do not change.

But even Oklahoma's method opens the door to inconsistencies, gaps, and omissions, particularly as the legislative form of the redistricting bills doesn't lend itself to visualization.

That's why it's important, during the redistricting process, for legislators not only to publish the draft redistricting bills and their long lists of census block numbers, but also to publish the in-progress work product, in the form of a table with a record for each census block showing its current district and assigned district under the proposed plan. Members of the public with GIS and database skills will be able to link this information with Census Bureau population numbers and census block geography and detect problems so that they can be corrected before boundaries are set in stone.

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1 Comments

Roy said:

Not sure what web surf parameters led you to this. But it certainly confirms the seriousness of setting political boundries. I recall (vaguely) several situations in the last couple decades of Tulsa history where some legislator lived outside the area said legislator represented. In the Utah case, kudos to the integrity of the guy who not only realized his error but took a big personal hit in reporting it.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 30, 2011 8:11 PM.

Redistricting listening tour, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 was the previous entry in this blog.

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