To keep up with population shifts, election district lines nationwide must be re-drawn at least every ten years based upon U.S. Census results. It’s a constitutional requirement in order to ensure every American has adequate representation in government, no matter where they live.
In late June, the Burlington City Council voted to create an ad hoc redistricting committee, which held its first meeting Wednesday night. It entered the meeting with a stated goal of taking public recommendations in the coming weeks so that it could present ideas to the City Council by early November.
The committee wanted to make that presentation in early November in order for a redistricting map to make it onto the Town Meeting Day ballot in March. However, quite a few committee members were concerned that the timetable may not have been realistic.
“One month to collect public input is very quick, and if it all needs to come together by then for the council to make its decision in November for it to come onto the March ballot, that’s — that’s a real quickie,” Ward 7 redistricting committee member Robert Bristow-Johnson said.
A staff member from Burlington’s Office of City Planning also told the group that an error in the preliminary census data throws the populations of Wards 6 and Ward 8 out of whack. He said there’s one particular census block that only includes a single residential building. That building is UVM’s Redstone Hall, a dormitory with 33 beds.
However, the census counted 1,238 people as living inside it. At the same time, bed numbers in several dormitories nearby were apparently under-counted by almost exactly the same amount.
“Redstone Hall is in Ward 8, and the other dorms are in Ward 6,” Burlington Office of City Planning senior programmer and analyst Jay Appleton said. “So, we would be moving potentially 1,200 people from the current Ward 6 into the current Ward 8.”
Because the census returns are preliminary, Burlington principal planner for comprehensive planning Meagan Tuttle said the error may not be officially fixed for quite a while.
“It’s also my understanding that information — maybe you know something different than I do about data releases, but I think the majority of the data that we’re expecting to help us answer these questions isn’t coming until 2022,” she said.
The committee members felt the early November timetable was tight enough that they voted to ask the City Council for a reasonable extension of it. The last time Burlington went through a redistricting process, it took nearly two full years — beginning in mid-2012 and ending with voter approval on Town Meeting Day 2014.