At the Legislative Apportionment Board meeting held Tuesday, policy experts from various organizations discussed how Vermont’s redistricting process might change, and the key question was whether to adopt a statewide policy of one representative per district.
“We believe that single-member districts foster local community,” Tom Hughes of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said at the meeting. “They are by nature going to be smaller geographically than many of the current districts, which currently some senators have to drive an hour to get from one corner of their district to another. … Also the smaller population sizes will foster more relationships between legislators and their constituents.”
A recent survey of 634 respondents indicated that the general public, by a 3-1 margin, wants single-member districts. About 75 percent said they prefer the more personable representation, whereas just 19 percent said the want multi-member districts. About six percent said they were undecided.
Other reasons Hughes gave for supporting the change include fostering more competitiveness during elections.
“As you may know, the re-election rate for incumbents, particularly in the Vermont Senate, is very high,” he said. “If you were running for re-election under the same party banner as you got elected in the first place within the last 10 years you are over 99 percent.”
He added that by reducing the size of districts each aspiring lawmaker has to cover, the policy lowers cost barriers and increases accessibility for newcomers.
Lastly, Hughes said giving some citizens multiple state senators and other people only one “creates an unlevel playing field, and people with multiple representatives and multiple senators simply have more representation in Montpelier than people living in single-member districts.”
Matt Krauss, former Vermont House and Senate member from Stowe, told the committee during the public comments that multi-member districts make it difficult for lawmakers and constituents to interact face-to-face.
“I think it cheats Vermonters by denying them the opportunity to see you, and by that I mean to say, constituents or people who when you are running for political office, they don’t care about what bills you’ve sponsored, etc.,” Krauss said. “They want to see you in person, on their doorstep, knocking on their door, seeking their vote, on their terms.”
Krauss echoed the sentiment that multi-member districts “effectively deny [regular Vermonters] any real opportunity to seek and win seats in the legislature.”
Krauss said he won all four of his contested races, including bumping out a four-time incumbent who owned a business in his town.
“So the question really becomes, how does a person beat someone like that?” he said. “… When I campaigned for that seat, I campaigned through the district not once but twice.”
Board member Mary Houghton, a resident of Brattleboro, suggested redrawing the maps in favor of either multi-member districts or single-member districts could be a challenge.
“I don’t see any reason to try to walk ourselves into one or the other,” she said. “I tried making 15 two-member Senate districts and I was focused on doing that while keeping the deviations as small as possible. … I ended up with a couple of totally absurd districts, including one that sort of snaked across the center of the state.”
As the process moves ahead, board members will continue to draw up variations of single- and multi-district maps, and a proposal will eventually be chosen, and further modifications will continue.
The Secretary of State’s office announced during the meeting that multiple organizations including VPIRG are planning a public input event on this subject to be held on Sept. 28.
The full Tuesday meeting of the Legislative Apportionment Board can be viewed online here.