Melissa Nelson-Stippich: Time to become a super fan of democracy in Utah – Salt Lake Tribune
It’s been said that democracy is not a spectator sport. Sometimes I wish people treated it like it was, though.
We’ve all known or even lived with that sports super fan who has a game day jersey or special practice to “influence” the outcome of a game. There are fans who can recall whole team lineups from years past and can cite from memory detailed stats about a player’s previous successes and failures. A true sports super fan will even take time to watch preseason games that don’t have any impact on the teams’ standing in competitions.
I wish it were that easy to inspire democracy super fans. Many people don’t even know who represents them, let alone what committee their lawmakers serve on, or how they’ve voted on legislation. Many public meetings are broadcast live, yet have fewer viewers than super obscure sports like curling.
As a non-sports fan married to a super sports fan, I can tell you that watching a live stream of the legislative session is no more complicated than watching a broadcast of a sports ball competition.
Don’t tell this to a sports super fan, especially the one in my house, but the difference between the two is that when I contact my lawmaker, I have a chance of making an impact. When I write a letter, leave a voicemail or cast a ballot, I can actually swing the outcome of a bill or an election, and so can you!
We have a major opportunity to get involved and show our “team spirit” right now. The once-in-a-decade process of drawing our district voting maps is happening at this very moment. If I knew enough about sports I would liken it to a big championship or the Olympics or something, but this happens only one time every 10 years, so it’s even higher stakes than that. This is like the ultra mega championship game and the outcome will be felt for decades to come.
District maps influence everything that happens in our communities. Many of the things that people complain about when it comes to politics come down to the fact that they live in an area with unfairly drawn districts. If you feel your lawmakers don’t listen to you, you don’t have the services you need, or other communities have access to more resources, it’s possibly because you live in an unfairly drawn district.
I may know next to nothing about sports, but I do know the teams don’t get to make the rules to advantage their side. When the people drawing the districts get to shape the maps to suit themselves instead of the communities they serve, it’s unfairly rigging the system.
In Utah, we have two paths to fair community districts. We have the Utah Independent Redistricting Committee, a group of nonelected officials who, thanks to Proposition 4 in 2018, have been appointed to represent the voice of the people, and we have the legislative redistricting committee, a group of elected officials who make the final decision on the map lines.
This is where you come in. You can email either or both groups to let them know you want fair maps, and you can even submit a map of your own community to educate the people drawing the lines. Both groups have very nice websites you can visit to learn more. Visit the Utah Independent Redistricting Commission at uirc.utah.gov and the Utah Legislative Redistricting Committee at redistricting.utah.gov.
You don’t have to sit around and watch the process from the stands. It’s time to don your democracy jersey and get involved!
Melissa Nelson-Stippich | Engagement Director for the Better Utah Institute
Melissa Nelson-Stippich is the engagement director for the Better Utah Institute.
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