Story updated: Senate moves ahead with House redistricting plan

Looking over the latest redistricting maps. VTD/Josh Larkin

Looking over the latest redistricting maps. VTD/Josh Larkin

The Senate, after a long and tedious debate over tweaks and tinkering, largely agreed to the House proposal for reapportioning voting districts for representatives and approved a plan to keep the Senate map nearly identical.

Once a conference committee gives the final nod, the two maps, which largely follow the boundary lines developed 10 years ago, will be in effect for a decade to come.

In the end, Chittenden County will remain the largest Senate district in the country, with six seats. The neighboring towns of Waterbury, Huntington and Bolton will be in three separate county districts (Washington, Addison and Chittenden, respectively). The 1,300 residents of Eden, who had been pulled into a district with the Northeast Kingdom towns of Lowell, Westfield, Jay and Troy, will now rejoin their Lamoille County neighbors, Johnson and Belvidere at the voting booth.

Four different Bennington County House districts were changed by the Senate.

Most of the arguments centered on what is (or isn’t) an acceptable level of deviation in voter population from district to district. Ten percent would be the ideal deviation level; 16 percent is defensible in court, according to Sen. Jeanette White, chair of Government Operations. The map approved by the Senate has a deviation rate of 24 percent.

White said her committee used three legal criteria to reset boundaries: identifying the least disruptive changes, keeping the deviation level defensible and respecting county lines, as required by the Constitution.

Government Operations reviewed 30 maps in all, most of which were between the 15 percent to 18 percent deviation range.

The Vermont GOP has threatened to sue if the deviation level exceeds 18 percent. White said the map is defensible because it abides by the criteria.

Sen. Dick Sears, a Bennington Democrat, was unhappy with the changes, which he said tore four House districts apart in his county.

Senate Pro Tempore John Campbell presents a resolution for a special committee on reapportionment from the Senate floor on Tuesday. VTD/Josh Larkin

Senate Pro Tempore John Campbell presents a resolution for a special committee on reapportionment from the Senate floor earlier this year. VTD/Josh Larkin

“As the other body worked on the plan, they came to conclusion Bennington County should be the epicenter of changes,” Sears said.

His proposal to put Reading back into Bennington County and keep Rupert and Pawlet together, among other changes, including a plan to put 33 voters in Hinesburg back in the Charlotte House district, failed. The deviation level would be 24 percent under the plan. Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, co-sponsored the amendment.

Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, urged lawmakers to drop the Sears-Ashe plan and adopt the committee bill.

“Traditionally reapportionment is difficult, it can be partisan and can get nasty,” Flory said. “In the Senate we had a nonpartisan and fair process. The same thing happened in the other chamber. They worked hard to come up with a proposal that met their needs and that’s harder in other chamber when you’re trying to divide it 150 ways.”

Flory said her county was affected; in one district two incumbent members of the General Assembly will have to go head to head because Rutland County is losing a representative in the House. Flory supports the plan though, because she said it was developed as fairly as possible.

“Every one of us can see things we don’t like in it, and as soon as we start messing with one area, we’re all going to find areas to start messing with,” Flory said.

A proposal to move the Bennington-Windham county line, in order to make it easier for residents of Somerset to vote, was ruled not germane.

Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, who sued on behalf of his Townshend when the original House map was issued and throughout the debate on Thursday interrupted the proceedings with comments, points of order and the like (as a result, there were six recesses during the floor debate), insisted that the map would lead to another lawsuit, which would, in his view, be successful and lead to a special mid-term election. He wanted a plan that didn’t split town boundaries and was a truer approximation of the county system.

Chittenden County Sens. Ginny Lyons and Philip Baruth said they would vote for the map, but they were both concerned about constituents in the county who feel the state’s most populous county is underrepresented.

One of the options would have been dividing Chittenden County into two districts and combining voters from the Burlington area with voters from Addison and Franklin counties.

“I don’t enjoy the idea of Chittenden County spinning off towns,” Baruth said. “I don’t think it’s a long-term solution or that it will work 10 years from now.”

The vote on the floor was 26-2-2.

Sen. Randy Brock, a Republican senator from Franklin and a candidate for governor, voted against the plan because he believes the state can be sued over the Chittenden County Senate district. Galbraith cast the other dissenting vote.

Download the Senate map.

Download the House map.

Editor’s note: This story was updated between 5:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. April 20.

ERRATA: We originally stated that Hinesburg would be part of the Addison County district. We should have said Huntington. Many thanks to the alert reader who pointed out the error. We also mistakenly said Brock is from Grand Isle; he represents Franklin. Lastly, the Senate did change four Bennington House districts, resulting in a 24 percent deviation rate.

Anne Galloway

Comments

  1. Josh Fitzhugh :

    The Berlin Board of Civil Authority unanimously voted to oppose the House’s two member district with Northfield which creates a district with the greatest under representation of any district in the state. We prefer two single member districts.

  2. David Crossman :

    Randy Brock is a senator from the Franklin district, not Grand Isle.

  3. Jim Christiansen :

    So…

    Under this plan, Huntington (located in Chittenden County) would be represented in the House by Washington County and the Senate by Addison County.

    So I ask you Sen. Jeanette White, which legislator do I petition in matters of County government, planning, and shared/regional services?

    For a Democrat caucus that falls all over itself in the name of fairness and equality, this plan is neither fair or equitable. What it is, is a true constitutional embarrassment.

    I ask you have the courage to do your job and eliminate/fix the broken Chittenden six district. Yes, the same six member district that hasn’t had a State Senator visit Huntington in an official capacity in the last 6+ years. Yes, the six member district that didn’t bother to make a call to Huntington regarding spring flooding or tropical storm Irene damage.

    You’ve much to be proud of Sen. Jeanette White.

    Now go ban those plastic bags.

  4. Mary Claire Carroll :

    Chittenden County needs to be split. It makes no sense to have Huntington represented by Addison Cty. The town has close association with Richmond where I live. Their Rep. represents part of Waterbury and Duxbury as well as Huntington. As your previous commenter wrote where do they go..who do they petition? For most of us who live in the Chittenden East School district…Huntington, Richmond,Bolton, Underhill, and Jericho…there is not a strong sense of connection to our Senators or to the Burlington area where most of our Senators live. Election time brings mass confusion and little time for serious examination of the candidates when 12 or more show up for a candidate forum. I know the redistricting commission proposed a split of the district that sounded workable. Why didn’t the Senate work with that?
    As for Hurricane Irene, I know that Richmond appreciated the time Senator Sally Fox volunteered during the clean up.

  5. Terje Anderson :

    The Senate map continues the farcial effort to maintain 4 Senate seats from the Northeast Kingdom, despite the lack of population to justify it.

    Between them, the 3 NEK counties (Caledonia, Essex & Orleans) have a population of 64,764 … remarkably close to the ideal population for a 3 seat Senate district district (62,574).

    But in an effort to maintain the outside political influence of the NEK, the 2 two-member districts continue to absorb significant chunks of territory in the surrounding counties.

    In the meantime, those of us who live in the towns in Franklin, Lamoille and Orange counties roped into these NEK districts continue to be significantly outvoted by the NEK residents in these gerrymandered districts, and we are pretty much ignored by the sitting state Senators.

    The legislature could have done a much better job of respecting county lines, as well as “one man, one vote” if they had been willing to challenge the current over-representation of the Essex-Orleans and Caledonia Senate districts. Sadly, they were willing to take on Vince Illuzzi and Bobby Starr, so the Kingdom will continue to have an extra State Senator unjustified by their current population.

  6. Jason Kelley :

    Poor Huntington! We seem to get kicked around by the Legislature right on schedule once every ten years. As pointed out by other commenters above, even though our economy links us with Burlington, our schooling links us with Chittenden East, our roads link us with Richmond, Hinesburg, and Waitsfield and our river flows North, we remain a redistricting football.

    But maybe Huntingtonians should embrace the changes proposed by our legislators. For instance, we could take a lead from our neighbors south of Hanksville and proudly rename our town “Huntington Gore” (not to be confused with the “Huntington Gorge”). Or how about petitioning the Legislature to link Huntington up with one of those counties in the Northeast Kingdom so we could take advantage of their relative over-representation as pointed out by Terje Anderson? Think of the potential tourist revenue: “If you lived here, you’d be in the Northeast Kingdom by now.”

    Frankly, I wouldn’t discount joining up with our neighbors to the south: the Addison County Fair and Field Days has always had better hot dogs than that overly hyped event up in Essex Junction.

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