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Middlebury panel to explore topic of redistricting

MIDDLEBURY — When viewing civics from a geographic lens, it becomes clear that those who have the power to draw district boundaries have the power to determine political representation. In most states, state legislators redraw congressional, state house and state senate districts every 10 years to ensure district boundaries reflect population shifts over time.

National news commonly associates gerrymandering (the act of intentionally drawing district boundaries with a partisan bias) with congressional redistricting. As a result, however, many people forget that district boundary lines can be manipulated at any scale.

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) is committed to raising awareness about the redistricting process by creating a platform for a diverse array of redistricting experts to share their experiences with the general public. Across the country, AAG members are working to organize a series of free, public panel sessions to equip attendees with state-specific information about how to get involved with the redistricting process.

Sixteen states, including but not limited to Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, have already hosted their redistricting panel event in early September. The Middlebury College Geography Department is working with the AAG to host Vermont’s redistricting panel event on Oct. 1, at 3:30 p.m.

Since Vermont only has one congressional district, Vermont’s redistricting discourse tends to focus on the redrawing of the 104 House and 13 Senate districts at the state level. Alana Kornaker, a senior geography major at Middlebury College, hopes to expand this discourse by situating Vermont within neighboring New York and Massachusetts to highlight Vermont’s role in the federal apportionment and redistricting process.

Ultimately, an understanding of redistricting at the national and state levels will help Vermonters understand the complexities behind redrawing school district boundaries, conservation zones, transportation districts, and other geographic boundaries, she says. “It is important to be able to draw connections between processes at the national, state, and local scales because systematic change only occurs when everyday people understand the multiscalar systems they are up against,” Kornaker said of her efforts to organize the Oct. 1 event.

Members of the Vermont redistricting panel include:

• Tom Little (Cornell University), Chair of the Vermont Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) and former member of the Vermont House of Representatives, will share his expertise about the state legislative redistricting process. Little will speak about Vermont’s redistricting history to contextualize the challenges the LAB is facing during this redistricting cycle.

• Tom Hughes (American University), Senior Strategist at Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and former executive director of Democracy for America, will amplify the needs of local Vermonters and speak about the role that VPIRG plays in bridging community needs with state legislators.

• Bertram Johnson (Harvard University), Professor of Political Science at Middlebury College, will talk about redistricting at the national scale and explain why the founding fathers created a governance system based on geographic representation in the first place.

• Chris Gernon (Middlebury College), a specialist in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), will speak about how advancements in mapping technology have made community participation in the redistricting process more accessible now than ever before.

• James Tedesco (University of Vermont), a community organizer/activist from Greensboro, Vt., will speak about the importance of getting young people involved.

After the panel’s presentations, college students and public attendees over Zoom will be able to directly engage with panel experts in an open Q&A session.

Due to the increasing prevalence of Covid-19 in Vermont, this panel will be hosted on the AAG’s Zoom platform, but will not be an event open to in-person participation. To register for the free event, visit aag.org/redistricting

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