Special Master’s plan

A special master charged with remapping Connecticut’s five congressional districts fulfilled his court-ordered task Tuesday and submitted a plan that balances the districts’ populations while making as few changes as possible to their current boundaries. 

In a 44-page report to the state Supreme Court, Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily offered a redistricting map which largely resembled the one proposed earlier this month by state Democrats and maintains the basic configuration of the current districts, all of which are represented by Democrats. 

Persily said his plan complied with the court’s order, which directed him to draft districts which were compact and of roughly equal population while modifying the districts as little as possible. 

“[The court order] did not authorize me to formulate a plan that I considered the ‘best’ or ‘fairest’ for Connecticut or to take account of any number of districting principles that the Commission or a state legislature might consider in formulating its plan,” Persily wrote. 

The state redistricting process is required every 10 years following the census in order to ensure each district has an equal number of residents. The court inherited jurisdiction over the process when the legislature’s bipartisan Reapportionment Commission failed in November to agree on a new map. The court is expected to hold a hearing before deciding whether to adopt the special master’s proposal before finalizing a new map by Feb. 15.

The 2020 census survey put Connecticut’s population at over 3.6 million people, meaning the new plan should create districts each containing about 721,000 residents. 

To account for population growth in Fairfield County, Persily’s plan shifts 25,627 people out of the overpopulated 4th District, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes. Persily proposed moving the district line in Shelton, a town already split between the 4th and 3rd Districts, so more of the municipality falls within the 3rd District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. 

The plan also had to account for a drop in the population of the 2nd District on the eastern half of the state, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney. Persily moved 21,288 residents into the district by shifting the lines so more of Glastonbury — currently split between the 1st and 2nd — falls within the 2nd District. 

Persily, who also served as special master 10 years ago when lawmakers could not negotiate an agreement, described his plan as producing slightly more compact districts than the map suggested by Democrats earlier this month but which largely takes the same approach. 

As in the Democrats’ plan, the city of Torrington remains divided between the 1st and 5th Districts. Republicans had called for consolidating the town within the 5th at the cost of displacing more residents from their current districts. In his report, Persily said there were benefits to uniting the city but he opted to leave it split, in part due to the partisan disagreement on the issue. 

“[A] decision to unite the town and place it in one or another district would necessarily be viewed as trying to bias the plan in favor of one party or another,” Persily wrote. “To be sure, every decision in a redistricting plan has electoral consequences, but abiding by a least-change approach ties the Special Master’s Plan to the mast of the existing districts and limits available choices in a way that can help immunize against charges of political manipulation.”

Given the court’s order to produce a least-change map, Republicans proposed a plan with little deviations from the current districts. 

However, they have also continued to argue that the court should consider more substantial changes to the map, including scrapping the “lobster claw” shape of the 1st District. The claw is a holdover of bipartisan negotiations from 20 years ago when Connecticut lost its 6th Congressional District. 

Republicans, who have not won a congressional seat in Connecticut since 2006, have argued the state should begin to condense the claw in favor of less contorted-looking boundaries. 

Earlier this month, Persily urged members of the Reapportionment Commission to make another attempt at a compromise but the effort proved unsuccessful.  Last week, Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, who co-chaired the commission, said pressure from incumbent Democrats coupled with the court’s order made negotiating substantial changes impossible. 

“That’s the backdrop. If we don’t get to an agreement we get to a least-change map, which helps Democrats,” Kelly said. “The bargaining power wasn’t equal like it was in the rest of the process.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have disputed the idea that the congressional districts were not politically competitive in their current shapes. During a hearing this month, House Speaker Matt Ritter pointed to the 2018 gubernatorial race in which Republican Bob Stefanowski beat out Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, in both the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. 

“So the idea there’s not competition, I don’t think the stats back that up,” Ritter said.