The bipartisan Reapportionment Commission released its map of redrawn state Senate districts this past week, and, if you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that some of the districts got a little … odd.
For instance, two districts grew noticeable tails: Sen. Eric Berthel’s 32nd District, which is focused around Southbury, Woodbury, Oxford, and several smaller rural towns, grew a little tentacle reaching into Bethel all the way to the Danbury border. Sen. Will Haskell’s 26th District, which stretched northwest from Westport to Ridgefield, extended a small arm of itself down from New Canaan into a Stamford neighborhood just northeast of the city’s downtown. The intersection of Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrahm’s 13th, Sen. Christine Cohen’s 12th, and Sen. Matt Lesser’s 9th Districts in Middletown and Middlefield is a bit of a mess, to say the least.
And then there’s one oddity on the map that I can’t even begin to explain: Sen. Kevin Kelly’s 21st District extends a very tiny piece of itself into Sen. Eric Berthel’s already weird 32nd District in Seymour, claiming a sliver of land between the train tracks and the Naugatuck River between Wooster Brook and the Broad Street bridge. There is nothing there. No, really, I checked the location on Google Maps and it’s nothing but trees and a public parking lot. I’m flummoxed as to why it exists at all.
What’s going on here? If this were a partisan process, we’d be very quick to call it gerrymandering. However, Connecticut’s redistricting process is run by a bipartisan committee of the legislature, so it can’t be that, right?
Sure it can be. Instead of favoring one party over the other, though, our legislature protects incumbents. The legislature is hardly a disinterested body when it comes to election districts. The leadership can use the map to keep members in power or make life difficult for members who don’t toe the line. The number of truly contested races for both houses in every election cycle is a minuscule fraction of the total. The fact that this bipartisan body has pushed out a map with such oddities on it should be setting off alarm bells for anyone interested in fair elections.
And, for anyone who is too caught up in bipartisan good feelings: the congressional district maps have not yet been released. If the last go-round in 2011 was any indication, Republicans and Democrats looking for an edge in next year’s midterm elections will be bitterly divided and deadlocked, leaving it up to the courts to pick a special master to draw the maps for us.
Connecticut’s not alone in having troubles with bipartisan commissions; states with newly-minted bipartisan panels are running into deep partisan divides which will likely end in the courts. Meanwhile, states in which the process is entirely partisan are cooking up badly gerrymandered maps intended to keep the other party out of power.
It stinks. It’s hard to place much faith in a system that seems so obviously rigged. There has to be a better way to do this, right?
California and a few other states have redistricting commissions that are entirely nonpartisan, and are tasked with drawing more equitable districts. But what does that mean? What makes a district fair? California’s commission tries to create maps that are “geographically compact,” “minimize the division of cities, counties, neighborhoods, and communities of interest,” and “ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.” And their draft maps actually don’t look too bad.
I tried my hand at making a state senate map using their criteria with Districtr, a free tool that lets you create your own districts. You can see that map below, or click here to interact and mess with it. I kind of like it; the districts aren’t familiar, but they are maybe a little more representative. Plus they don’t have weird tails.
No map is perfect, of course, because the mapmakers are human. We all have our own biases, and I’m sure mine crept into the map I made. Maybe some kind of redistricting algorithm is the answer, though I’ll bet that has its own horrible problems. Or maybe we ought to give up on maps altogether and go for proportional representation like some countries do, where each party gets allotted seats based on their vote share.
In the meantime, though, Connecticut’s mapmakers can do better than a weird and suspicious state Senate map. I encourage them to try.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.
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