Local News, State News

Redistricting: Oct. 1 panel to explore why it’s crucial to raise public awareness

When viewing civics through a geographic lens, it becomes clear that those who have the power to draw district boundaries have the power to determine political representation. In most states, state legislators redraw congressional, state house and state senate districts every 10 years to ensure district boundaries reflect population shifts over time.

National news commonly associates gerrymandering (the act of intentionally drawing district boundaries with a partisan bias) with congressional redistricting. As a result, however, many people forget that district boundary lines can be manipulated at any scale — national, state or local.

The American Association of Geographers (AAG) is committed to raising awareness about the redistricting process by creating a platform for a diverse array of redistricting experts to share their experiences with the general public. Across the country, AAG members are working to organize a series of free, public panel sessions to equip attendees with state-specific information about how to get involved with the redistricting process.

Sixteen states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, have already hosted their redistricting panel events in early September.

The Middlebury College Geography Department is working with the AAG to host Vermont’s redistricting panel event on Oct. 1, at 3:30 p.m. at the Robert A. Jones House at 148 Hillcrest Road on the Middlebury College campus.

Since Vermont only has one congressional district, Vermont’s redistricting discourse tends to focus on the redrawing of the 104 House and 13 Senate districts at the state level. Alana Kornaker, a senior geography major at Middlebury College, said the panel discussion will discuss not only how area residents can be more involved at the state and local levels, but reapportionment at the federal level — and in particular how it relates to Massachusetts and New York — will also be a focus.

Ultimately, an understanding of redistricting at the national and state levels will help Vermonters understand the complexities behind redrawing school district boundaries, conservation zones, transportation districts, and other geographic boundaries, she says.

“It is important to be able to draw connections between processes at the national, state, and local scales because systematic change only occurs when everyday people understand the systems they are up against,” Kornaker said of her efforts to organize the Oct. 1 event.

Speakers on Vermont’s redistricting panel include: 

  • Tom Little (Cornell University), chair of the Vermont legislative apportionment board (LAB) and former member of the Vermont House of Representatives, will share his expertise about the state legislative redistricting process. Little will speak about Vermont’s redistricting history to contextualize the challenges the LAB is facing during this redistricting cycle.
  • Tom Hughes (American University), senior strategist at Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and former executive director of Democracy for America, will amplify the needs of local Vermonters and speak about the role that VPIRG plays in bridging community needs with state legislators.
  • Bertram Johnson (Harvard University), professor of political science at Middlebury College, will talk about redistricting at the national scale and explain why the Founders created a governance system based on geographic representation in the first place.
  • Chris Gernon (Middlebury College), a specialist in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), will speak about how advancements in mapping technology have made community participation in the redistricting process more accessible now than ever before.
  • James Tedesco (University of Vermont), a community organizer/activist from Greensboro, Vt., will speak about the importance of getting young people involved.

After the panel’s presentations, college students and public attendees over Zoom will be able to directly engage with panel experts in an open Q&A session.

Due to the increasing prevalence of Covid-19 in Vermont, this panel will be hosted on the AAG’s Zoom platform. It is also open to in-person participation for those individuals who are fully vaccinated. All who come must wear a mask on campus and at all times inside. To participate in the free event, please register for the Zoom presentation or in-person at aag.org/redistricting.

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