Special Master’s 2021 redistricting plan

The state of Connecticut received a C+ for its 2021 redistricting process, according to a Wednesday report card from a coalition including Common Cause, which assigned a letter grade to each state based on metrics like transparency and opportunities for public input. 

The voting rights watchdog group was one of several organizations behind the report, which was also written by Fair Count, State Voices, and the National Congress of American Indians. 

The report’s authors conducted surveys and community interviews in an effort to gauge how each state conducted the once-in-a-decade process of remapping its congressional and state legislative districts to reflect population fluctuations recorded by the census.

The C+ lettergrade puts Connecticut slightly above the middle of the pack nationally, with 20 other states earning an equal or higher score. The highest grade given in the report card was an A-, awarded to just two states: California and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the state’s of Alabama, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin were all given Fs.

During a virtual press conference Wednesday, Elena Langworthy, deputy policy director for State Voices, said Connecticut’s grade stemmed in part from transparency issues reported by advocates. 

“While the maps tended to be something that advocates did not have much problem with, there was just a significant lack of transparency,” Langworthy said. “The constitution does not require any sort of public engagement and so, by and large, the process has been conducted behind closed doors. That was something that was brought up repeatedly.”

Like other states, Connecticut’s 2021 redistricting process was plagued by delays at the U.S. Census Bureau. Those delays and the COVID-19 pandemic factored into a decision by the state’s committee of legislators to shelve a tradition of holding public hearings in each of Connecticut’s five congressional districts. Instead, the group held three in-person meetings around the state and one virtual public hearing. 

The report concluded that state lawmakers did a poor job of communicating updates and language assistance options to members of the public. Langworthy said advocates also were not sure that their input had any impact on the final maps produced by the panel.

“Advocates on the ground really questioned how much of their public input was taken into account during the process,” she said.

In addition to weighing transparency and public feedback, the coalition assessed other criteria like the willingness of policymakers to incorporate community feedback, the level of partisanship in the process, and whether the interests of communities of color were reflected in the final maps. 

The group also assessed whether state’s rejected so-called prison gerrymandering — the practice of counting incarcerated people in the districts where they are imprisoned rather than where they previously lived. 

Connecticut lawmakers abandoned prison gerrymandering through legislation in 2021, in a move which proponents argued would restore political influence to the largely Black and brown cities where many incarcerated people resided prior to their imprisonment. 

The coalition’s 112-page report acknowledged those reforms Wednesday.

“Advocacy efforts made by Common Cause Connecticut, ACLU Connecticut, NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut (LWV-CT) to advocate eliminating prison gerrymandering were effective and implementation was quick,” the report said.  

Redistricting is a largely bipartisan process in Connecticut. The state’s Reapportionment Committee is made up of four Democrats and four Republicans, with a ninth member coming aboard later in the process to help break ties. 

The 2021 redistricting process required lawmakers on the committee to ensure that Connecticut’s roughly 3.6 million people were spread evenly across its legislative districts. That meant adjusting the maps so that each of the five congressional districts had around 721,000 residents. 

Although Connecticut’s overall population remained relatively stable through the last 10 years, the 2020 census recorded a shift in population which grew in Fairfield County and dwindled in eastern Connecticut.

State legislators were able to agree on adjustments to state House and Senate maps. However, congressional districts were mapped with the help of a court-appointed special master, Stanford University professor Nathaniel Persily.

An analysis commissioned by the League of Women Voters and conducted by Trinity College experts found that 97% of maps adopted by Connecticut’s redistricting panel favored an incumbent, according to the coalition’s report.

“The use of ensemble analysis confirmed suspicions of intentional mapmaking patterns that favor keeping incumbents in power,” the report said. 

Ahead of the 2031 redistricting process, the groups called for greater public education of the process and potential reforms. Those included the possibility of adopting an independent redistricting commission, which would exclude legislators with a vested personal interest in the outcome of the process from drawing the maps. 

“As a result, these commissions tend to attract individuals making a good faith effort to learn about communities and make informed decisions about how to ensure the fairest representation possible for the highest number of people,” the report said.