This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.
A few weeks ago, the bipartisan Vermont Apportionment Board produced a recommendation that occurs once every 10 years on how to redraw the state’s legislative districts in light of our new U.S. census numbers. The majority consensus of the Board was clear: eliminate Vermont’s multi-member districts in exchange for single-member districts.
Multi-member districts are an archive of the past. Vermont is one of only two states to even use multi-member districts in both chambers. Back in the 20th century, multi-member districts were used to ensure people of color were underrepresented — which is why so many states have wisely abandoned them. For all its progressive causes, Vermont is behind on this one.
Today, multi-member districts are equally harmful, according to former VT Republican Senator Matt Krauss, in killing the tradition of door-to-door campaigning, hurting candidates who don’t have the luxury of massive financial resources, and making it almost impossible for challengers to beat entrenched incumbents.
One need only look to Chittenden County — the largest State Senate district in the country. Yes, you read that right. Every two years, the “block” of Chittenden County democrats wins over and over again with little opposition. They don’t have to campaign, because even though they might be less popular in suburbs like Milton and Essex, they can count on Burlington to drive them across the finish line. So, they ignore vast constituencies and coast to victory without a challenge.
Consider this: if you live in Underhill — a town with a population of about 3,100 residents — you are represented by six state senators and two state representatives. That’s eight legislators in total. But if you live right across the district boundary in Cambridge — a town with nearly 3,900 residents — you are represented by one state senator and one state representative. How is this remotely fair?
Thankfully, Governor Scott signed into law a bill that mandates the breaking-up of the massive Chittenden Senate district, but the problem exists elsewhere in Vermont too.
As Rob Roper recently put it, moving to single-member districts is simply about equity and common sense. That’s why he — and a bipartisan coalition — are recommending to the Vermont Legislature that we adopt single-member districts entirely. And Vermonters agree: a survey of 631 Vermonters indicates that 75% are in favor of moving to single-member districts.
It is long-past time we abolish this relic of the past so we can give equal representation to Vermonters, break up entrenched incumbent blocks, and help new candidates run for office.