Community forum: Board seeks reapportionment input

This week’s writer is Tom Little, chair of the Legislative Apportionment Board.

The 2020 Census numbers for Vermont indicate that our little state grew by about 20,000 people over the past decade, or +2.8%. We also know that within Vermont our overall population has been migrating toward the northwest region of the state (Chittenden, Franklin and Lamoille counties), and away from the south and east. Moreover, there is a legislative mandate to break up the six-member Chittenden senate district (currently Chittenden County minus Colchester and Huntington/Buel’s Gore). All of these factors point to a legislative district map in 2022 that could look very different from the ones Vermonters have used, not just since 2012, but for many decades past.

The reason for redrawing district maps every 10 years is a simple but compelling one. In order to ensure that representation in the House and Senate is roughly equal — reflecting the principle of one person one vote — as local populations grow and shrink district lines must move in such a way that each district contains about the same number of people. In 2022, the ideal number of Vermonters in a single-member House district, for example, will be just under 4,300. Too many more than that, and the residents of that district are under-represented. Too few, and they are over-represented. In either case, the district would be considered unconstitutional.

Compounding these demographic challenges is the fact that the final, street-level population counts from the 2020 Census — necessary for redrawing roughly equally populated legislative districts that satisfy these constitutional requirements — won’t be available until September 2021. We know how many Vermonters there are (643,000), but we can only estimate at this point where they are. Until we have that data, the Legislative Apportionment Board can’t complete new house and senate district maps for recommendation to the legislature. The legislature, which has final say over what the maps look like, will have to make changes (if any) and a decision in just a few short months of the 2022 legislative session that runs from January to mid-May.

Now, consider that candidates for House and Senate races will need to file paperwork declaring their candidacies sometime in the second half of May 2022. How they can do this if the district they want to file to run in hasn’t been determined is a question we all hope to avoid. So, get ready for a fast and intense reapportionment ride!

Between now and September, the Legislative Apportionment Board is collecting as much data and public input as it can in order to be able to make good decisions very quickly about how to fairly deal with our new demographic realities.

 Some questions we have for the public at large include:

• What is more important to you: making sure the populations in each district are as close to equal as possible, or allowing larger (within constitutional guidelines) differences in populations to maintain district lines closer to the status quo?

• How important is it to you that your legislative district lines conform to town boundary lines?

• How important is it to you that your legislative district lines conform to county boundary lines?

• Do you prefer single member house districts (one representative per a House district of around 4,300?) or two member districts (two representatives in a single house district of around 8,600 people)?

• Do you prefer single member senate districts (one senator per senate district of around 21,500 people), or multi-member senate districts (two or three senators in a single district of around 43,000 or 64,500 people)?

You can let the Legislative Apportionment Board know your views on these questions and on other factors you wish us to consider as we draw up proposed legislative district lines by:

• emailing board members at their addresses posted on the board’s website, sos.vermont.gov/apportionment-board/contact-the-board;

• participating in our monthly on-line meetings (sos.vermont.gov/apportionment-board);

• or mailing a letter to us c/o the Secretary of State’s Office, Legislative Apportionment Board, 128 State St., Montpelier, VT 05633-1101.

This is a critical exercise in our representative democracy. It happens only every 10 years — don’t miss out on it!

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