Op-ed: Senate panel seeks community unity, multi-member districts in remapping

By Sen. Alison Clarkson

Every 10 years the results of the national Census requires each state to review the impact of any population change on their electoral districts.

The Vermont Constitution requires that our state’s population must be fairly distributed to afford “equality of representation.” Covid delayed the national Census returns and, as a result, the redistricting process has been condensed. Each state manages its own work. Vermont’s process begins with the Legislative Apportionment Board, a politically balanced, seven-member, non-legislative group whose chair is appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice. It is charged with taking the first stab at this work.

The board met this summer and fall and produced two reports – a majority and minority report for both the House and the Senate to consider. In the House, the Government Operations Committee, after feedback from the Boards of Civil Authority, reviews the LAB’s proposals and, after much work, proposed a new redistricting map to the House for approval.

In the Senate, the LAB report comes straight to the Senate Reapportionment Committee, a group of seven, balanced by party and region. You can find all the LAB reports and maps on either the Secretary of State’s website or on the Legislative website on each Committee webpage (see below).

I have been appointed to the Senate Reapportionment Committee, which has been trusted with the task of incorporating the 2020 Census data into our Senate districts so that they equitably reflect the changes in population. While the population in Vermont grew from 625,741 in 2010 to 643,077 in 2020, most of that growth was in the northwestern part  of the state, specifically in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

The increase in Vermont’s population requires that each House member represent about 4,300 and each Senator about 21,500. The southern four counties (Bennington, Rutland, Windham and Windsor) lost some population but the most significant loss has been in the North East Kingdom.

The SRAC has made a few decisions already. We have chosen to not accept the LAB’s majority report, which created one person Senate districts. With the support of our constitution and historic precedent, we have decided to adhere to the following standards.

We agree that Senate districts be based on

  1. county boundaries,
  2. substantial equality (minimal percentage deviations),
  3. the avoidance of splitting towns and counties,
  4. respecting community connections, common interests and geography, and
  5. creating reasonably shaped districts (compact and contiguous territories).

We have a small window of time in which to finish our work – as candidates need to know what a district looks like before they know if they are eligible to run for it. With a primary date of Tuesday, Aug. 9 and candidate consent forms and petitions due May 26, we need to have finished our work by April 1. This is important work that impacts the composition of the House and the Senate and how Vermonters are represented in their state legislature.

I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at 802-457-4627. To watch legislative committees in action, and to get more information on the Vermont legislature, the bills that are being debated now, and those that have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website by clicking here.

Sen. Clarkson represents the Windsor District in the Vermont General Assembly.

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