The main reason we have a Census every 10 years, beyond finding out how many toilets everybody has in their household, is to ensure we are all equally represented in terms of population by our elected lawmakers.
District lines need to be adjusted to ensure that as populations change and shift regionally in Vermont, each of our 150 state representatives represent roughly 4,300 people, and each of our 30 state senators roughly 21,500. Vermont’s Legislative Apportionment Board is now examining the new population data and drawing up possible maps from which they will make a recommendation to the Legislature what changes to the status quo need to be made. The incumbents, in the end, get to pick their voters.
Since the 1960s, Vermont has had a weird, hybrid hodgepodge of one- and two-member House districts, and one-, two-, three- and six-member Senate districts with populations multiplied by the number of elected officials. (A single-member house district has 4,300 people, a two-member house district has 8,600, and so on.) This immediately raises fairness questions. Why does a constituent in Chittenden County get to vote for and call upon six senators when issues arise, whereas a constituent in Orange or Lamoille County gets to vote for and call upon only one? Why does a candidate running for Senate in Windsor County (three members) have to raise enough money and invest enough time to reach 64,500 constituents at election time to have a shot at winning, whereas a candidate in Grand Isle needs to raise and spend only enough to reach 21,500? This is unfair and inequitable on many levels.
Two-member districts favor larger political parties. When a smaller party (or an independent) seeks election, two-member districts greatly disadvantage them because voters are required to render two votes, and that second vote will often go to a dominant party candidate. This skews the process against minority party candidates.
This has been borne out nationally in studies of equity. Vermont’s Racial Equity Task Force noted in its 2021 Report:
Extensive political research and case law have demonstrated that in most of the U.S., states and localities have taken increasingly flagrant tactics designed to suppress and dilute the votes of communities of color. One such tactic is the use of multi-member districts.
Yet, the number of two-member districts in Vermont was increased in the last round of reapportionments: “The final plan resulted in a decrease in single-member districts from the previous reapportionment. Senatorial districts for the counties of Bennington, Caledonia, Franklin, Grand Isle, Orange, and Washington remained unchanged from 2002 reapportionment.”
With all of the grandstanding about race in Vermont, it is embarrassing that the state has moved in the direction of systemic voting structures that undermine minority candidates, of any color. Vermont’s progressives are quick to criticize other states — and the nation — for supposedly discriminatory voting laws. It is now time to put up or shut up — weighting Vermont’s voting reapportionment to favor single-member districts that prioritize fair democratic representation should be a priority for the 2021-22 redistricting process, even though that may weaken the Progressive stronghold in the Vermont Legislature.
This year we have an opportunity to end this nuttiness and eliminate the inherent inequities of multi-member voting districts by moving to an all-single-member system for electing our senators and representatives. But the people are going to have to scream loud to overcome the incumbent protection incentives and gerrymandering temptations built into the multi-member district maps.
So, start screaming! A clear and detailed survey has been created for that very purpose. Please review the brief questions in this petition, and add your voice. Single-member districts favor equity and inclusion while safeguarding equal representation — who could object to that? One person, one vote; one district, one rep! It just makes sense.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.