The Day – Delayed by COVID, Connecticut redistribution accelerates
Connecticut’s legislative redistribution process goes public this week, testing whether the availability of open data and mapping tools can bring public participation in a process long controlled by political insiders.
It is easy to calculate the appropriate population levels for the Congressional and General Assembly districts. But adjusting district lines, a task that began late with the arrival of granular data from the pandemic-delayed 2020 census, comes with the complexity of a Rubik’s Cube.
The redistribution has traditionally been done out of the public eye, negotiated by leaders of the Democratic and Republican legislative caucuses sensitive to the wants and needs of incumbents – namely, district cards that will increase the chances of re-election, without inviting to competition.
The availability of free online mapping tools preloaded with census and election data means that for the first time anyone can nominate their own constituencies and submit them to the legislature’s redistribution commission. It also means that the cards can be easily evaluated to determine if they have partisan bias or racial impact.
“I really think we should welcome this level of contribution,” said Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, co-chair of the reassignment committee.
The tools can be found on websites such as Districtr.org, DavesRedistricting.org, and DistrictBuilder.org.
Senatorial Minority Leader Kevin Kelly R-Stratford, the other co-chair, said the mapping available on websites is an opportunity for anyone who has ever thought they could do a better job than lawmakers.
“The flip side is people will see the complexity of the challenge,” he said.
The first of four public hearings on the redistribution takes place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Legislative Office building in Hartford, followed by one at 1 p.m. Thursday at Norwich Town Hall. Two more are scheduled for next week, the last to be conducted via Zoom.
But there will be no proposed maps to comment on, unless they are offered by the public.
The redistribution commission has only met twice, once to organize in April and again on Friday to schedule public hearings. He will not produce a card until he meets his September 15 constitutional deadline and dissolves himself, giving way to a safeguard commission of eight lawmakers to elect a ninth member.
If the committee had produced maps for the United States House, State Senate, and State House districts, they would have been submitted to the Full General Assembly for approval, which requires a two-thirds qualified majority. Anything that the nine-member commission produces will not be subject to a legislative vote.
If the commission cannot agree on new districts by Nov. 30, the task falls to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Ten years ago, the commission agreed to the state’s legislative districts, but the congressional map was finalized by the court.
Connecticut’s overall population barely changed from 2010 to 2020, adding just 31,847 people to a state of 3.6 million. That’s a nine-tenths increase of 1%, the smallest among the 47 states that have seen growth in the past decade.
But the population was hardly static. For example, Stamford grew up and Hartford shrank, a likely gain in political weight for one and a loss for the other. One congressional district needs to grow, another more compact.
“It’s a very difficult process, and there will be winners and losers,” Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford said.
Hartford, the only one of the state’s five largest cities to lose population, now sends six representatives to the state’s House of Representatives. It will be a challenge to attract new districts that can elect more than five.
At the congressional level, the losses in eastern Connecticut and the gains in Fairfield County mean that U.S. Representative Joe Courtney’s sprawling 2nd District must grow even larger, while Representative Jim Himes’ 4th will become more compact.
“There is going to be a clear need to make changes to the maps of Congress to a degree that I don’t think we saw 10 years ago,” said House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora , R-North Branford.
Drawing the cards is a legislative function in Connecticut, but Democrats’ dominance over the General Assembly is not an advantage. By constitution, the legislature’s redistribution committee is equally divided, four Democrats and four Republicans. Unsurprisingly, the cards are generally seen as fair to both parties.
PlanScore, a national nonprofit that assesses the fairness of legislative maps, says its measures “do not consistently indicate a bias in favor of either party” in Assembly districts general. He does not offer any opinion on Congress cards in states with fewer than seven seats.
The commission that will succeed the committee should be made up of the two principal officers of each of the four legislative caucuses.
“You have to do it, I think, at the highest level of leadership,” Ritter said. “Probably nothing is more important to your caucus members and their districts than what they look like. “
Candelora, Kelly and their deputies, Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, and Senator Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, are on the redistribution committee and will be on the commission.
Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, will be on the committee. Pro Senate Speaker Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, declined to say whether he and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, will represent Senate Democrats until he consults the caucus.
The redistribution in Connecticut begins with three simple calculations: Divide the population of 3,605,944 by 5, 36, and 151. These are the number of Congressional, State Senate, and State House districts.
Ideal neighborhood populations are: US House, 721,188; State Senate, 100 165; and State House, 23,880.
The two congressional districts furthest from the 721,188 ideal are the 2nd, 699,901 residents and the 4th, 746,816 residents. The other three are closer: 1st, 717,654; 3rd, 715,360; and 5th, 726,213.
There will be an adjustment of the data by the Office of State Policy and Management due to a state law that allocates the Connecticut inmate population to their home communities for the purpose of plotting district boundaries.
“This is the last piece of the data puzzle,” Kelly said.
Redistribution is a zero-sum puzzle, where changes in one district spill over into the others.
Almost 40% of the overall population growth has occurred in Stamford, the second largest city in the state with a population of 135,470. As a result, the districts represented by Rep. David Michel and Senator Patricia Billie Miller, both Democrats from Stamford, must become more compact.
The 146th District of the House of Michael now has a population of 32,900, the largest imbalance of any General Assembly District.
Stamford’s population growth will add to the town’s case for a second state senate seat. By combining portions of Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford with suburbs, these cities now elect two state senators each. Stamford is bigger than New Haven and Hartford, but there is only one senator.
Geography is not on Stamford’s side. Bordered by Long Island Sound on one side and New York on the other, there is little flexibility in drawing the Senate districts around Stamford. The part of Stamford not represented by Miller is in a district dominated by voters in Greenwich, and that seat was recently reclaimed by Republicans in a special election.
The Connecticut Congress card has its own challenges.
Three of the five districts have a geographic sense, but the 5th District of Western Connecticut looks like a creature that has invaded the 1st District of Greater Hartford, traversing the Farmington Valley to the West Hartford border.
The border is the consequence of the loss of a seat in the House of the United States by Connecticut after the census of 2000. It was designed to serve the interests of two incumbents placed in the 5th: Democrat James Maloney of Danbury and Republican Nancy Johnson of New Britain. It was designed to provide a level playing field and remains competitive.
“I think most people would agree that these neighborhoods are a little weird,” Candelora said. “We know historically why they came into being. As long as we can make the districts more representative with logical connectivity, I think we should try to do so. “
Haddad warns that any partisan benefits offered by card revisions may be fleeting.
He notes that three of the five congressional seats were won by Republicans in 2002 and 2004. Courtney and Chris Murphy dethroned Republicans in 2006 in the 2nd and 5th, which remain the most competitive by several measures. Himes toppled a Republican in 2008 in the 4th, a former GOP redoubt that now leans Democrat.
Ten years ago, Republicans came up with a map that made no sense: it made the 5th District border more rational, but it would also have moved Democratic Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, from the 4th to the 3rd – maturing the 4th for a GOP comeback. The court rejected it.
Ritter said the goal this year is for the commission to complete all three maps without court intervention.
“I don’t think anyone thinks that we should ever refer this authority to a judicial branch,” he said. “It’s our job to do it, and I think we plan to do it and get it done on time. “
Mark Pazniokas is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2021 © The Mirror of Connecticut.