By Shayne Spence
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Shayne Spence of Johnson, who was a Republican candidate for the Vermont House in 2020.
With an ongoing battle taking place over the future of voting rights and access, on the federal level and in many states, we often hear about the For The People Act, or HR 1.
While I have my issues with this bill, and I much prefer the compromise legislation proposed by Sen, Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, there are several important components to both pieces of legislation, not the least of which is prevention of partisan gerrymandering. This is the practice of political parties working to draw districts that favor their candidates, rather than creating fair districts and letting the chips fall where they may.
To put it another way, it’s politicians picking their voters, rather than voters picking their politicians.
Readers may be surprised to know that Vermont’s legislative redistricting system leaves us wide open to partisan gerrymandering. Recently, voting rights group RepresentUs released its Gerrymandering Threat Index, which takes a look at various state laws surrounding redistricting, and whether they can be abused for partisan political gain. It rated Vermont’s risk as high.
The organization particularly takes issue with our system of allowing political partisans on the redistricting commission to draw the district maps, which are then approved by the political partisans who make up the Legislature, many of whom work with the folks on the commission to carve out special districts most suited to them.
They also have concerns about our lack of a public hearing requirement before maps are approved — the redistricting commission can, but is not required to, receive any public input before finalizing its recommendations. And this year, due to delayed census information, it will only have 90 days to do its work, making it very unlikely that it can get the public’s input in any meaningful way.
With all the focus being diverted to federal legislation, Vermonters are forgetting about the important work that can be done on this issue close to home. What’s odd is, even with a Democrat/Progressive supermajority on this issue we haven’t seen any attempts made to pass legislation that would make our electoral system more fair. Since they have the political power and their base quite clearly wants it, I am left to wonder why. Could it be that our majority party has a vested interest in an election system skewed in their favor?