Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drawing Up the New Districts

Things are chugging along with the establishment of Aldermen by District. Check out the Waterbury Observer for a good report of what's going on with the District Commission.

If this is a topic that is of interest to you (and if you live in Waterbury, it should be), I recommend that you plan on attending the public meeting at City Hall on January 8 at 6:30 p.m. The District Commission will present three district maps for us to give feedback on. ("Us" means anyone and everyone who lives and votes in Waterbury.)

This is your chance to be heard. Don't sit back and assume someone else will do it for you. Participate in the reshaping of your city government. Get involved, and stay involved. Pay attention to what's happening, and take advantage of any opportunity to have your voice heard.

Before you go to the January 8 meeting, spend some time thinking about what you hope to see happen. The city is going to be divided into five districts -- what should those districts be?

The Commissioners will be drawing the boundaries based on how many people live in each area, how many people are registered to vote at each polling center, where different minority groups are clustered, geography, existing political boundaries, where the incumbents live (to "avoid head-to-head contests"), and "communities of interest." They will also be guided by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as any relevant state laws.

In order to help you think about the issues involved, here are several maps to consider.

Map 1

Let's start with Waterbury's current State Legislative districts. There are five such districts in Waterbury. Some people have wondered why we can't just use those districts as the Aldermanic districts. The answer is that one of those districts includes all of Middlebury, so that plan would work only if Waterbury annexes Middlebury. Although that has some appeal, it's not going to happen (but, boy, would it make for a funny fictional short story!).

Current State Legislative Districts. The 71st District also includes Middlebury,
making it impossible for the Aldermanic Districts to follow the same boundaries.

Map 2

The next map is drawn to give you a sense of what could happen if the Commission decides to guarantee that the incumbent Aldermen are protected. This is not a precise map, just a rough draft to show that it is possible.

This is not that bad of a district map, but it is risky. If the new districts are based on the current residences of the incumbents, it could set a dangerous precedent in which it would be considered acceptable to redraw the map every time an incumbent moves out of his or her district. It would also set an equally dangerous precedent for the next time the district boundaries are redrawn for legitimate reasons.

If the Commission should decide to deliberately protect the incumbents, I hope there will be legally binding language to prevent any future consideration of the location of incumbents when the district boundaries are eventually redrawn.

Hypothetical map protecting all the incumbent Aldermen,
while following some of the State Legislative boundaries.

This brings us to the issue of gerrymandering, the definition of which is to rig the district boundaries to benefit one party over another, or one class over another. It could be argued that this map is an example of political party gerrymandering, since there are more Democrats than Republicans or Independents, but since it protects all the incumbents, I'd be surprised if anyone raised that point.

The issue of class is stickier. It could be argued that this map violates Federal law, since it sets up a scenario in which the poorest neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of minorities are represented almost exclusively by white Aldermen living in predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods. However, this would be easily remedied in the first election by putting forth candidates who live in the minority neighborhoods (i.e., the South End could rally behind a candidate from their neighborhood, ousting one of the incumbents from Town Plot or East Mountain). It would be a problem only if all the three parties refused to include viable candidates from certain neighborhoods or communities.

I think it is important for the Commission to consider the locations of the incumbents when drawing up the Districts, but a deliberate effort to avoid having more than two incumbent Democrats or more than two incumbent Republicans in any one district would be interpreted as gerrymandering, especially if it is done at the expense of equal representation.

On the other hand, if the Commissioners draw up a map that "protects" all of the Republicans, but forces the Democrats to have a primary in one or more districts (which is a possibility), or vice versa, they could be accused of favoring one party over the other. They have to proceed very carefully, and very thoughtfully. They are surrounded by metaphorical land mines.

Map 3

This next map is what I call the "Map of Doom." If I had more patience, I could make this map even worse. It was a struggle to draw it so that the incumbents are all protected and the "inner city" is gutted--gerrymandering isn't as easy as you might think! I'm joking around a little here, but this would be terrible if it actually happened.

This is a worst case scenario, in which minority communities and impoverished neighborhoods are sliced and diced to prevent them from electing their own candidates. Fortunately, the Voting Rights Act (and the integrity of the Commissioners!) will prevent the "Map of Doom" from happening.

"Map of Doom," the map least likely to actually happen.

Map 4

A while back, I invited readers to submit their own maps. Bryan B. submitted this next map, which incorporates the boundaries of existing polling locations to establish five districts with approximately equal numbers of registered voters. The Commission will be considering more factors than just those, but this map is very helpful in visualizing the concentrations of registered voters, and for considering how that should factor in to the final district boundaries.

Map showing hypothetical districts based on number of voters and polling district boundaries.

Map 5

This last map is one I drew, basing the hypothetical District boundaries on the approximate boundaries of existing neighborhoods, geographical divisions (such as Route 8), and the boundaries of the Legislative Districts.

Hypothetical map based on neighborhoods, geography, and Legislative Districts.

Other Ideas

Community activist Jimmie Griffin did not draw up a map, but did state that he hopes that the boundaries of the 72nd and 75th Legislative Districts are retained.

I have no idea what the Commission will present on January 8. There will be three maps to choose from, and they will be counting on public input to guide them. Please plan on attending, and please give this some serious thought beforehand. If we want a good government, we must all participate in the process.

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