The Colchester Board of Civil Authority (BCA) sent feedback to Vermont’s Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB), saying a draft proposal redistricting the town’s two legislative districts into four would be confusing to voters and put an undue staffing burden on the town offices.
At their Nov. 12 meeting, the BCA passed a motion recommending that Colchester remain two districts with two representatives in each. The BCA also recommended the district dividing lines stay the same. The motion passed with 14 yays and 3 nays.
Every ten years, the state has to go through a redistricting process with updated population data from the U.S. Census Bureau in order to adapt legislative districts to changing populations. The draft map was sent to BCAs throughout the state by LAB, asking for feedback from each municipality.
Current districts vs. draft
Colchester’s current districts split Colchester down the middle with Chittenden 9-1 encompassing the east and Chittenden 9-2 the west. The population of the districts are 9,012 and 8,055 respectively. Both districts keep Colchester completely intact, including no pieces of other towns.
The LAB-proposed districts would also keep Colchester intact, but split the town into four each with one representative:
Chittenden 9-1: encompassing the eastern most corner of Colchester, includes 4,529 voters
- Chittenden 9-2: consisting of Colchester’s southern center, includes 3,936 voters
- Chittenden 9-3: taking the northeast corner of Colchester, includes 4,531 voters
- Chittenden 9-4: including Colchester’s southeastern corner, includes 4,528 voters
Why the BCA said no change
Colchester Town Clerk Julie Graeter said the Colchester BCA decided the change was also unwarranted as Colchester’s current two districts are well within a 10% deviation from the ideal population size, with both members in the Chittenden 9-1 representing 4,408.5 voters and both members in Chittenden 9-2 representing 4,353.5 voters.
The current deviation for Chittenden 9-1 is 2.83% and for Chittenden 9-2 it’s 1.55%.
In fact, Greater said, Colchester with its existing districts has gotten closer to the ideal population within each district with the new census data as opposed to the old.
In the draft proposal, each district has a higher deviation from the ideal population size than the current districts, with Chittenden 9-2 reaching as high as an 8% deviation and the other three hitting around 5%.
Colchester is currently represented in the House by Rep. Seth Chase and Rep. Curt Taylor in the Chittenden 9-1 district and Rep. Sarita Austin and Rep. Patrick Brennan in the Chittenden 9-2.
If the draft map were to go through unchanged, Rep. Sarita Austin and Rep. Seth Chase would have to run against each other as they live within one of the same proposed districts. In addition, the Chittenden 9-2 district in the proposed map would mean an open seat as no representative currently seated lives there.
In addition, Grater said the draft split would complicate the voting process.
Greater said that for many years the town had two polling locations, one in the village and one in the bay. That changed around seven years ago because the town realized their village location was not handicap accessible.
Now all voting occurs at Colchester High School.
Grater said the BCA agreed that everyone is used to voting there now and didn’t want to change it, risking confusion when voter turnout for the town in recent years has been high.
The feedback sent back to the LAB from the BCA also mentions the financial and logistical burden additional equipment, supplies and staffing would put on the town.
“When you're talking about four different districts, you're talking about a set of checklists for each district,” Graeter said in a Nov. 23 interview. “So instead of two sets, you have four sets. You have to worry about four sets of voting booths, instead of two. You have to worry about staffing, volunteers and staff members, who handle any issues that come up during the election.”
Nothing is set in stone yet.
The legislature will look at all the feedback from BCAs around the state and try to agree upon a new map, when the legislative session opens up in December.