Church Boundaries and Political Gerrymanders

December 8, 2003 | 7 comments
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Greg’s post below on the criteria used in drawing ward boundaries, reminds me of another interesting issue: the use of ward boundaries as a criteria for drawing political boundaries

I have repeatedly heard the story that in Utah when the lines for state legislative districts are drawn up they track the boundaries of ecclesiastical units. Thus, when possible wards and stakes are not divided between different state representative or state senate districts.

You can see the political logic of this practice. In politics, name recognition is gold, a valuable asset that you don’t want to fritter away or disappaite. People who are active in the church, especially in leadership positions, get a fair amount of name recognition. The district lines allow Mormon candidates to capitalize on this effect, and it further solidifies Mormon strength in the legislature.

My understanding is that the practice matters more one you get out of the Salt Lake to Provo corridor and the ward and stake boundaries become more expansive. Like I said, this is a rumor that I have heard from several independent sources, some of whom such as David Magleby, former chairman of the BYU political science department, are fairly knowledgable. Can anyone with more experience in Utah politics confirm this?

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7 Responses to Church Boundaries and Political Gerrymanders

  1. clark on December 8, 2003 at 3:03 pm

    Is this an issue? I’d assume it would only be in Utah. But in Utah ward boundaries and even Stake boundaries are rather in flux given the growth rate. I think that the last redistricting was called gerrymandering. But some said it was also to ensure that rural voters weren’t lost in the madness of the suburban sprawl that is Utah. I think a case could be made that it increased the presence of democrats at least in the national offices – although perhaps the opposite in local elections. But of course the local democratic party has *so* many problems of its own.

    Anyway, back to my point. Have stake boundaries ever been used in the modern era (say since the 1960′s) in Utah politics?

  2. Nate on December 8, 2003 at 3:28 pm

    It is important to realize that I am talking about boundaries for the state legislature, not boundaries for Congressional districts. I have heard people say that stake boundaries are still used in rural areas for state legislative boundaries. In these areas, I suspect that the stake boundaries are more stable.

    Obviously, this is not likely to be an issue outside of Utah…

  3. brayden on December 8, 2003 at 3:43 pm

    I don’t know about legislative boundaries, but I know that local government relies on the Church in many other ways. My brother-in-law works works in the bureaucracy of a small Utah city, and he tells me that whenever the city council or mayor need up-to-date statistics on the local population, they turn to the stake clerks. Not only do the clerks have information on all members in their stake boundaries, but they also contain equally detailed information about non-members.

  4. clark on December 8, 2003 at 3:44 pm

    Actually for rural regions it probably is the case that Stake boundaries simply follow fairly logical regions that make social sense. So it seems reasonable to follow them for political districting. One can also be sure that the regions will fit a social group. As such it would seem to be the opposite of gerrymandering. (Which seems essentially districts that *don’t* follow some natural social region but which allow the representation of some desired political or racial group)

    As an interesting aside, Lousiana still has parishes rather than counties, reflecting the Catholic nature of the state. (As well as the French influence) Back home political districts are called wards. (I don’t think that is the case here in Utah)

  5. Greg on December 8, 2003 at 3:54 pm

    Of course, the Mormon use of the term “ward” began with the political use (in Nauvoo, as I recall), and only gradually came to signify a religious unit.

  6. Taylor on December 8, 2003 at 7:16 pm

    Greg- I think your comment about “ward” as a political term is extremely interesting. The greek word for “church” (ekklesia) is also borrowed from the political realm. It seems to me that this idea is related to the church as the Kingdom of God.

  7. Greg on December 8, 2003 at 7:21 pm

    I just did a quick google search and found this article that has some more details, as well as a bibliography, about the origin of “wards” in the LDS context:

    http://ldsfaq.byu.edu/emmain.asp?number=199