In Which I Answer the Apportionment Board’s Questions
Vermont’s Apportionment Board is preparing for the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts. The process has been delayed by months due to the Trump administration causing the first delay in American history for the Census, but the board is doing what it can before it can get its hands on the numbers.
That includes seeking public input on apportionment issues. The board recently posted a piece on VTDigger asking people to answer a few basic questions. So, here are my answers.
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?
As close to equal as possible. You may already be aware of my general feeling about “the status quo.” The question, I infer, is mainly about district lines following town/city boundaries whenever possible. But that’s already more a polite fiction than an actual reality. It’s sort of a faint yearning for the days when each community sent a single Representative to Montpelier. And those were not the Good Old Days.
• How important is it to you that your legislative district lines conform to town boundary lines?
It’s nice, but not necessary. And, as already noted, it rarely works out that way in any case. It shouldn’t outweigh other factors.
How important is it to you that your legislative district lines conform to county boundary lines?
Not at all. Counties are essentially meaningless for political purposes. (With apologies to Addison County High Bailiff David Silberman.)
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)?
Single-member districts, please. Two-member districts muddy the waters and make it harder for non-incumbents to run. They also tend to produce partisan splits; it’s harder for two members of a single party to sweep a two-member district.
Do you prefer single-member Senate districts (one senator per Senate district of around 21,500 people), or multimember Senate districts (two or three senators in a single district of around 43,000 or 64,500 people)?
Kill multimember Senate districts. Kill them, dismember the corpses and burn ’em. Right now, the vast majority of our Senators come from multi-member districts. It’s much harder for non-incumbents to challenge for Senate seats than for House seats, and multi-member districts are a major factor in incumbent protection. My Washington County district has three seats, and the incumbents always win. And it’s not even close.
(I know, I know, Bill Doyle. But it took advanced age, years of no campaigning, a documented tendency to fall asleep on the job and the Republicans’ ill-considered nomination of another guy named Doyle to defeat the real Doyle.)
The new law limiting multi-member districts to three is a step in the right direction. It’ll require a split in the absurd six-member Chittenden district, which is impossible for new candidates in our most expensive media market. The only time Chittenden elects a new Senator is when one of the old ones retires. Down with multimember districts!
Those are the questions. The board also solicits any and all comments. So here’s a couple from me.
First, make the districts as geographically compact as possible. Vermont follows this practice pretty closely, but it shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. I hate gerrymandering.
Second, and I know this will never ever ever happen, but I’d like the Legislature removed from the process. Go to an independent commission with final say, and with strict rules for how best to draw boundaries. When the House and Senate have the last word, it’s an open invitation to protect incumbents at all costs. That should not be a factor in redistricting.
I’d urge all interested Vermonters to let the Board know where you stand. When done right, redistricting adds fairness to the electoral process. The more voices are heard, the better.