by Patricia Rossi,
Connecticut Representative of the League of Women Voters of the U. S.’s People Powered Fair Maps Program.
Source: The Connecticut Mirror
2021 is the year for redistricting in the United States. Maps drawn this year will define which voters can vote for which candidates for the next ten years. That means ensuring that the 2021 maps are fair and representative of their communities is critically important.
How do we ensure we get fair maps? By paying attention to what, when, and how the process is conducted and providing input to the legislative committee so the public’s voice is heard alongside those of legislators.
What is redistricting? Our U.S. Congress members, state legislators, and many city council and school board members are elected by people grouped into districts. At least once a decade, after a census, these districts are redrawn.
Why do we do it? As population shifts between and within states, districts have to be redrawn to ensure that each district has about the same number of people, allowing for each person to have an equal say in the government, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
How is it done in Connecticut? What’s the timeline? The Connecticut constitution sets out the redistricting process: a bipartisan committee is appointed by the top four leaders of the legislature by February 15th. The leaders have appointed those eight members for this cycle: Sens Mary Daughtery Abrams, D-13; Douglas McCrory, D-2; Kevin Kelly, R-21, Paul Formica, R-20; Reps. Vincent Candelora, R-86, House Minority Leader; Jason Perillo, R-113, Terry Exum, D-19, and Gregory Haddad, D-54.
The committee uses data from the decennial census to create and submit a districting plan to the General Assembly. If the Assembly does not approve the plan by September 15, an eight-member reapportionment commission is identified by the same legislative leaders, who then chose a ninth state elector to join them. They are charged with preparing a plan that at least five members support by November 30th. If they cannot agree on a plan, the constitution calls for the supreme court of Connecticut to compel the commission to agree to a plan. The court can also draw the boundaries itself. The plan must be done by February 15th of the next year (in this cycle, 2022).
This timeline assumes the U.S. Census Bureau will be able to deliver population counts for all the towns, districts, and census blocks in Connecticut by April 1st. The Census Bureau has announced that the data needed for redistricting won’t be delivered until late September. This late delivery increases the chances that the process will be rushed and scheduling opportunities for public input diminished.
How can we make redistricting better? Elected officials —including the eight members of the redistricting committee– have an incentive to create districts that protect incumbency. It would be better to have a commission made up of non-partisan experts and citizens who would be more likely to draw maps that took the people’s interests in mind, perhaps by using criteria defined by the voters.
But in Connecticut we don’t have time to change the process for 2021: that requires amending the state constitution, which is a multi-year process. We do have the ability to increase the chances that the process is conducted in full view of an educated and involved electorate.
We can insist the committee:
- Create and maintain a public website soon to lay out their plans for map drafting, public hearings, experts engaged, community representatives consulted.
- Share the draft maps and political and demographic data the committee is using. Communities could then see where they are being counted and have their concerns and suggestions heard.
- Commit to accessible and timely public hearings, conducted around the state, via teleconference and in person, and timed so input can be given early on in response to draft maps and later in the process before final maps are drawn.