By Timothy Bristol
On Monday June 12th, in a special meeting, the Stratford Town Council voted along party lines 6-4 to adopt the redistricting plan that would gerrymander District 2 councilwoman Katlin Shake out of her district into District 7 where she will have to run against Councilwoman Sutton in the November election to keep her seat on the council.
The Republican majority has brazenly and corruptly subverted the electoral process to attempt to regain the District 2 council seat. The only explanation given by the Republican members of the council was it could not be gerrymandering because “In all ten districts democrats outnumber republicans.” Zero facts or data were given to substantiate that claim. Not only is that not what gerrymandering is about but it is not even the argument being made by anyone who spoke at either of the public comments surrounding the two votes for the redistricting plan.
Gerrymandering as defined by Merriam Webster is “the practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections” This has nothing to do with party registration of voters or the number of voters in a given district. The kind of gerrymandering everyone was talking about (except the Republicans) is known as Hijacking which redraws two districts in such a way as to force two incumbents to run against each other in one district, ensuring that one of them will be eliminated. This is exactly what the Republicans did, and they know it. They got away with it because of the rules of a broken system which is meant to advantage the majority in the council. The Republican members of the council with every vote like this or action they take prove they don’t care about integrity or democratic values. They erode the democratic process by doing this.
During the June 12th Special meeting to approve the redistricting plan for District 7, councilwoman Sutton said ” I think people are forgetting that redistricting is not removing anybody. That’s what elections are for.” Which entirely misses the point of what was done. Instead of Councilwoman Shake and Councilwoman Sutton running their races in their respective districts, now they are forced to run against each other in the 7th District. Neither a guaranteed a victory and Councilwoman Sutton has been raising money expecting a big fight.
Anyone who looks at the district map, especially the lines between districts 2 and 7 can see the gerrymandering that took place ten years and now. District 2 is been openly mocked as an octopus stretching out into the other districts any way the Majority sees fit. Carving out the side of the street Councilwoman Shake lives on into district seven should be a bridge too far, this should anger the residents of Stratford. It is a pure politically motivated screw job, and it is unacceptable.
Zero information has been made available to the public. No data, no numbers, and no statistics were given as to why the boundaries changed or had to be changed. The town Attorney even admitted in the June 12th meeting that the redistricting committee, which was a 6-4 majority Republican committee, did not have to explain the new boundaries with specific data as long as they closely followed the 2020 census data. Only the boundaries have to be approved, not the data used to create the boundaries. This is due to the vagueness of how redistricting is done in the charter and town ordinances; the committee has free reign to do whatever they want.
This cannot continue, this process has zero oversight and zero accountability. Politicians getting to redraw district lines be it Democrat or Republican is ridiculous. Its politicians choose their voters and choose their opponents. We must change this corrupt way of redrawing districts, This must be given to a nonpartisan committee that does not have a vested interest in how these lines are drawn. This should be based on data and consensus instead of shoved down the Minorities throat. At the very least someone should be checking the work of the committee who is not a politician in town, an independent observer who can hold them accountable.
I said at the public comment on June 12th, if the politicians in town were unwilling or unable to make these changes then I would. I will be seeking a referendum to change the town charter to fix this broken system if need be. We need accountability and transparency in this process or what happened to Councilwoman Shake will happen