Weighing in on Wyoming’s redistricting issue
The February 2012 session of the Wyoming State Legislature will include voting on a redistricting plan for the state. Whichever plan is chosen will be in effect for 10 years, and delegate how people from every corner of the state are represented at the state legislature.
The Wyoming State Legislative Web site explained that redistricting is done every decade to ensure populations within election districts remain substantially equal. The Web site also stated that districts should be contiguous, compact and reflect a community of interest, and should follow county boundaries to the greatest extent possible.
“There have been several public hearings held across the state, which are now over. The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee will hold additional meetings and decide on a fairly finalized plan by November or December. Then, we will vote on it, like any other bill, during the February legislative session,” explained House District 2 Representative Hans Hunt of the ongoing process.
He added that there are currently around 10 proposed plans on the Wyoming State Legislature’s homepage, and the public is encouraged to look at those and leave comments on any or all proposed plans.
“The impacts of this decision are very serious to the citizens of the state. There is always some danger when re-drawing district lines. For example, if you look at Weston and Campbell counties, you’re looking at two areas where funding issues are polar opposites, where one is a very wealthy county and the other is poor, and where one has the majority of the population that would end up in a voting district should they combine those. Those smaller counties run a risk of not having a say within their district,” noted Hunt of one reason all citizens should be involved in the redistricting process.
“So many of the plans take a local approach to ensure a legislature’s voting district is preserved, and nothing beyond that is considered. That’s how you end up with these funky little fractions, where people are separated from the rest of their county, or get split three to four ways and could never elect a representative from their area. Then people don’t feel connected with their representatives because they’re one or two counties away. While that is going to happen in some cases no matter what, it needs to be minimized as much as possible, and keep the citizen’s interest in mind over preserving incumbents voting districts,” noted Hunt, who submitted a statewide redistricting plan based on that thought process.
Producer Doug DesEnfants lives in northern Goshen County, an area currently fractioned off from the rest of the county, and has experienced the impact of being part of a county split into multiple voting districts.
“In my opinion it’s messed up when our vote doesn’t go with our county. We are a part of District 2, which encompasses Niobrara, Weston, part of Converse and us. While our house representative has been extremely good about listening to his constituents, wherever they are located, he lives in Weston County. While his entire district is fairly ag-oriented, there are differences in the needs and opinions between Goshen, Natrona, Niobrara and Weston counties. Just drawing lines to get a set number people doesn’t always result in all those people being well represented, and I don’t like that,” DesEnfants stated.
He offered the idea of each county having a representative, and utilizing technology to calculate votes on a weighted scale based on population, as a solution to dividing counties to meet population numbers within each voting district.
“That idea has been presented before, but at that time there wasn’t the technology we have available today. The argument I’ve heard on that idea is that the senators from the most populated areas of the state would be, ‘wined and dined,’ more because their vote would carry more weight. Of course that will happen, but, at least we will still have a voice at the state level,” commented DesEnfants.
“We are a county that has experience growth in the last decade, and based on the formula the state uses, we’re going to have between 300 and 500 people that need to go into another voting district,” stated Sublette County Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Joel Bousman of the situation in his part of the state.
“There are several plans out there for consideration, some of which would have our county split three ways. My view is that there is a lot of attempt by legislatures to protect their seats in some of these plans. It’s wrong for legislatures to come up with plans with the goal of defending their district, and I don’t think it’s in the public’s best interest to do that.
“We understand that there is going to be some segmentation of the population here, and I think we’re open to working with that. What we’re adamantly maintaining is that we want one seat entirely within our county that will follow the customs and culture of our county as closely as possible,” said Bousman of Sublette County’s opinion.
“Our county clerk has been very involved in this issue, and while I don’t know if it’s a formal plan, we must support what the clerks from around the state have come up with for a plan. They’ve tried to re-draw the map in a way that is workable for holding elections, and that creates the best balance from the clerical standpoint,” he continued.
When asked about the possibility of a weighted vote for each county, Bousman said while he hadn’t heard that discussed, it could potentially eliminate the need to re-draw districts every ten years.
“I encourage people to get on the Legislature’s Web site and review the plans. There is an area for comments on each plan, and people should give their thoughts and opinions,” stated Hunt.
editor’s note: to review the proposed plans, visit http://legisweb.state.wy.us and look for the “2011 legislative redistricting” link under the current items of interest tab.