Politically Thinking: Brandon may lose tie to county

Will Brandon continue to be part of the Addison senate district in 2012? This is probably the question with the greatest local impact as the process of redrawing Vermont’s legislative district lines for the next 10 years begins this winter.
The Census Bureau will release the final numbers from the 2010 census early next year. A legislative apportionment board will then prepare a draft plan to divide Vermont into 30 senate and 150 house districts in a way that is consistent with the constitutional standard of “one person-one vote.” Each legislator should represent nearly the same number of people.
District lines should be redrawn to reflect population changes that have occurred since the 2000 census.
Once the apportionment board completes its work in the summer of 2011, the House and Senate themselves will review the proposed district maps in 2012. The Legislature may well make substantial alterations to the draft plan prepared by the apportionment board. The new district lines will be used for the first time in the 2012 elections.
Brandon has been part of the Addison senate district for some time. Combining Brandon with Addison County makes sense. The Rutland Northeast school district, based in Brandon, includes the Addison County towns of Leicester, Whiting, and Goshen. Many people from Brandon go to Middlebury — rather than to Rutland — for shopping, health care and other purposes.
While 2010 census data are not yet available, the Census Bureau has released 2009 population estimates. These estimates show that each of Vermont’s 30 senators should ideally represent 20,725 people, one-30th of the state’s population. The Addison senate district, including Brandon, has an estimated population of 40,622, less than 1,000 people short of the ideal size of 41,450 for a two-member senate district.
The population of the entire state of Vermont has increased by between 2 and 3 percent since 2000. However, a few areas of the state, among them Rutland County, have lost population over the past decade. The Rutland senate district has three members, so should have an ideal population of 62,175. The estimated population of the Rutland district, which currently does not include Brandon, is 59,152, or 3,023 people below the ideal size for a three-member district.
The population estimate for Brandon is 3,862. Moving Brandon from the Addison district to the Rutland district would make the Rutland district much closer to the ideal size than it would be without Brandon. However, if Brandon were moved, the Addison district would be over 4,000 people short of the ideal size for a two-member district. In those circumstances, another town from outside the county would need to be added to the Addison district.
Since 2000, Chittenden County has grown by more than 4 percent, nearly twice as fast as the state as a whole. The 2009 estimates show that the six-member Chittenden senate district is over-populated by more than 10,000 people. If two medium-sized towns were removed from the Chittenden district, that district would come back into balance.
The southernmost town in Chittenden County, Charlotte, has 3,789 people. If Charlotte were moved to the Addison district, and Brandon were moved to the Rutland district, all three districts — Chittenden, Addison and Rutland — would come close to the one-person, one-vote standard.
Charlotte’s ties with Addison County are much looser than Brandon’s. Charlotte is definitely oriented north toward Burlington, not south toward Addison County. However, in order to comply with the constitutional requirement of one-person, one-vote, the Legislature may have to move Brandon to the Rutland district and move Charlotte to the Addison district.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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