Local legislators oppose redistricting plan

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BRATTLEBORO -- A proposed plan to slice up the House districts in Windham County is not likely to be approved, but it still makes sense for residents to talk about the plan, area lawmakers said this week.

Every 10 years the Legislative Apportionment Board looks to modify districts in the state to better reflect recent census numbers.

The seven-member board approved a plan to rewrite the state's House districts to create 138 single-seat and six two-seat districts.

Under the proposed plan many of the districts in Windham County would be changed, with Saxtons River being moved into a district with Westminster; Athens going to the Newfane-Townshend district; and Marlboro joining a district with Halifax, Whitingham and Readsboro.

The board approved the plan last month, and now boards of civil authority around the state are commenting on the plan, which needs to be approved by the Legislature.

Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, who would see major changes in his district, said he has mostly heard opposition to the plan among his constituents.

Olsen said there is a good chance the Legislature will come up with its own plan, if any changes are made at all, but he said it was still important for the BCAs to talk about the plan and offer recommendations.

"Regardless of how this looks now, it provides an important opportunity to offer comments which will be useful when the Legislature begins work on the progress," Olsen said. "So far, the people who have seen it are not happy at all."

The proposed plan was favored by Republicans and Progressives on the board and passed on a 4-to-2 vote.

The board was supposed to rewrite districts so that each member of the House represents about 4,170 citizens.

Rep. Richard Marek, D-Newfane, said the idea to carve districts into single seats reflects the political philosophy of some of the board members, and is not a practical solution to better represent the towns.

If Saxtons River moved into a district with Westminster, for instance, Saxtons River residents would have to vote in Westminster in November, but go to Bellows Falls for Town Meeting.

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Town clerks would have to generate multiple check lists, which Marek said could confuse voters.

"It becomes a logistical nightmare for some towns," Marek said. "When you start moving around districts there is a ripple effect, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not."

Marek said he understands the board's charge, and if there were logical reasons for making the changes there might be more support among lawmakers.

In his district as well, most of the constituents who do know about the proposal are not enthused, and he said ultimately the map will look very different from the one the board put forward.

"For all of the problems this will cause the rationale is pretty thin," he said. "It seems like all they did was throw a hand grenade into the middle of what has been a reasonable system. I think ultimately the Legislature will draft its own proposal."

Under the proposed plan, the Windham-4 district, which is currently represented by Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, and Matt Trieber, D-Bellows Falls, would undergo major changes.

Currently District-4 includes Rockingham, Athens, Windham, Grafton and a slice of Westminster.

Under the proposed plan Saxtons River would go to a Westminster district, Athens would move to Newfane, Windham would be included with Londonderry, and Grafton would join a district with Chester and Andover.

The Rockingham BCA is scheduled to meet Monday to talk about the plan, but Partridge said there is little support, either among area residents or lawmakers across the state.

"This is a political plan to go after Democrats. Our district is totally scattered to the wind," Partridge said. "So far I have not heard from anyone who supports it. I think this is dead on arrival."

For more information on the Legislative Apportionment Board, visit http://vermont-archives.org/reapportionment/.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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