Friday, July 1, 2011

Census Blocks, County Lines, Communities of Interest…Oh My!

Rock River was at the center of a verbal tug of war as legislators from the Corporations Committee listened to redistricting suggestions in Laramie on Tuesday morning, June 28. Rock River is in Albany County, but do residents more closely identify as voters with neighbors in Laramie or in Carbon County?

Legislators must preserve a “one person, one vote” distribution as they consider how to draw lines around new voting districts across the state. They also apply traditional redistricting principles, including 1) compactness, 2) contiguity, 3) preservation of county and municipal lines, 4) maintaining communities of interest (specific groups with shared interests/identity), and 5) maintaining cores of existing districts, and incumbency protection or competitiveness. For more information on these principles and redistricting in general, read the ACLU’s report, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Redistricting But Were Afraid to Ask.

So why do voting districts in Wyoming resemble a geographic jigsaw puzzle? It really depends on what your priorities are, and legislators made some of theirs known on June 28.

Senator Nicholas pointed out that it may be unfair to voters to redraw lines in order to preserve the seats of incumbents, and that lines should be drawn in order to best reflect what the community wants. For example, he says, Albany County prides itself on sending two Democrats and two Republicans to the Wyoming House, and lines are carefully drawn to preserve that split, which seems to best represent the community.

Albany County Clerk, Jackie Gonzales, explained a proposed plan for the county that nearly preserves existing districts, stretching or constricting them a bit in one way or the other to reflect changes in population.

Representative Hunt offered a completely new plan, which places the greatest weight on drawing districts that, as closely as possible, follow county lines. Counties with small populations would be supplemented by residents near the line of a neighboring county. The beauty of his plan, he suggests, is that no district goes over a 3.4% deviation from the “one person, one vote” principle. The closer the deviation gets to 10%, the more likely it is that a court may want a darned good explanation.

Tracy Hunt, Representative Hunt’s driver for the day (and dad on all days), said his son’s plan “sets up a firewall against the chaos” he sees in plans that just modify existing districts.

Representative Byrd expressed concerns that a plan that only takes into account county lines, though, fails to recognize communities of interest. Say, for example, Rock River.

The Cheyenne meeting that evening covered many of the same themes as the Albany County meeting. The Laramie County Clerk’s office offered a proposed plan for redrawing Laramie County voting districts. The most tense moment came when Representative Dan Zwonitzer expressed his concerns over the proposed changes, saying that he greatly disagreed with the population numbers in his district. Senator Johnson reassured everyone in the room that, “Nothing is set in concrete. Please be patient and know that nothing will be decided immediately.” Rep. Illoway reemphasized this point by informing attendees that, “Public meetings are for fact-finding, and that no official votes will be taken until this fall.”

In addition to Representative Hunt’s statewide plan which embeds most districts within county lines, Senator Cooper and Senator Martin brought forth the Cooper/Martin alternative plan for western Wyoming districts.

So where do you draw the lines? Give redistricting a try on the Redistricting Plan Viewer on the legislature's redistricting webpage.

And tell your representatives what you think by attending the next community meeting coming up on July 12. For a complete schedule, check out our May 5th blog post.