State House of Representatives Redistricting Plan 2011
State House of Representatives Redistricting Plan 2011

The bipartisan panel of state lawmakers charged with redrafting Connecticut’s voting district lines reconstituted itself Tuesday as a nine-member commission when it added to its ranks Kevin Johnston, a former Democratic lawmaker and state auditor.

Once a decade, the state constitution requires the legislature to adjust the lines of its congressional and General Assembly districts to reflect the results of the U.S. Census survey. Members of the Reapportionment Commission voted unanimously during their first meeting to appoint Johnston, a former legislator and auditor of public accounts. The role will be familiar for Johnston who accepted the same charge 10 years ago. 

“[Johnston] did a fine job, I think. Was trusted and respected by all interested parties and all sides of that negotiation,” Senate President Martin Looney said Tuesday.

During the commission’s Zoom meeting, it also appointed Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and House Speaker Matt Ritter as its chairs. The commission now faces a Nov. 30 deadline to remap the districts or — as was the case with 2011’s congressional map — the state Supreme Court takes a role in approving the new district lines. Ritter said he hoped to avoid that outcome.

“We have a constitutional requirement to get this done. It’s not the court’s job to do this so I look forward to working with all of you,” Ritter said. “I know we’ll do it in a timely fashion in accordance with our state constitution.”

As the commission moves forward, Kelly said Senate members would work together to negotiate new Senate district lines while the panel’s House members would focus on their chamber’s districts. The entire group would work on congressional districts, he said. 

Kelly said the commission continued to welcome input from the public and encouraged residents to use online resources like Districtr or Dave’s Redistricting. Both sites allow users to create maps while balancing the populations of their own proposed districts.

The commission was required when the eight-member Reapportionment Committee failed to meet a Sept. 15 deadline to draft new proposals and subsequently dissolved. Before its disbandment, the committee held a shortened agenda of hearings to solicit voter input. The group organized in-person hearings in Hartford, Norwich, and Shelton followed by a virtual forum on Zoom.

Although redistricting committees have missed the September deadline in past decades, it was virtually unavoidable this year, as the census data on which the maps must be based were delayed for months by the Census Bureau after the agency struggled to conduct its nationwide population count during the pandemic. Despite the truncated timetable, Looney said he was optimistic the commission could complete its work before its next deadline in November. 

“We have quite a bit of work to do but I think working with goodwill we can get there,” Looney said.