In marked change, RTM redistricting plan moves toward bipartisan OK
Updated 5:49 pm, Wednesday, October 22, 2014
In marked contrast to its predecessor, the Representative Town Meeting's Redistricting Committee has been quietly meeting -- and agreeing -- on a new map for local voting districts.
The committee's recommendation, which would maintain the current number of 10 districts, received the unanimous endorsement of the RTM's Legislation and Administration Committee. According to Town Clerk Betsy Browne, the RTM will hear a report on the proposed map when it meets Oct. 27. The new map will be placed on the agenda for the November meeting for discussion, with it being voted on in December.
Under the proposed map, only one local voting district will be split between state legislative districts -- District 3, parts of which would be in the 132nd and 134th General Assembly districts.
The earlier subcommittee last year deadlocked on revised boundaries for voting districts based on new census data, and its three GOP members brought a redistricting proposal for an eight district map to the full RTM. Though that plan was approved in the RTM along party lines, it was invalidated by a court ruling for not following the town's own regulations on redrawing district lines.
This latest map keeps the number of RTM districts at 10, but the committee recommends that for efficiency, the number of representatives in each district be reduced from five to four. That would result in an RTM with 40 members, instead of the current 50.
"As a Redistricting Committee, we dedicated ourselves to outlining an RTM voter district map that was in the best interest of all Fairfield residents, while meeting the legal requirements of our state statutes," committee Chairwoman Pam Iacono said in a memo to RTM Moderator Mary McCullough.
The resulting map creates three districts that "lean" Republican, three districts that "lean" Democratic and four that are considered swing districts. Of the swing districts, according to Iacono's memo " 2 lean slightly Republican and 2 lean slightly Democratic."
But whether a district has a certain political leaning, she said, "really is insignificant -- it is the candidate who is running and can most effectively connect with a resident who will ultimately earn election to the RTM." The majority of town residents, she said, are unaffiliated with either major political party.
Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7, said he will recommend that his caucus vote in favor of the new redistricting map.
"I think that the committee did a great job," Schwartz said. "As you know this is one of the most politically motivated task anybody could take on."
He said the maps, are in his opinion, based as much as possible on state statutes regarding overlapping General Assembly districts, as well as population variances.
"I am not personally in favor of a reduction in the number of representatives," Schwartz said. "I think that constituent representation is very important. We must be able to communicate with all of the people we represent and listen to them. But this compromise reached for more districts with less representatives is better the alternative of having a larger constituent base by making less districts."
His counterpart, Majority Leader Ed Bateson Jr., R-3, applauded the committee "for diligently developing a bi-partisan ordinance that fulfills the required mandates."
"While I can only speak to the present and to the future, I believe it is good news for both the voters and the RTM body that this ordinance was voted out unanimously by the Redistricting and L&A committees, and that it is now headed to the full RTM for review," Bateson said. "At the end of the day, redistricting at any level of government is an arduous task, and this is why the Special Legislative Management Committee purposefully tried to set the Redistricting Committee up for success with a sense-of-committee resolution, in consultation with the town attorney, which outlined a pathway to achieve a mutually agreeable redistricting ordinance."
Iacono said the committee carefully weighed the 2011 census numbers and, under this proposal, all districts are within the 10 percent population variance threshold required by state statutes.
The new map would require that some polling places change locations. Polling locations are chosen by the Registrar of Voters office. In the event that the registrars cannot agree on a polling location, the decision is referred to the RTM for a ruling, according to Iacono.