Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece and represents the author's views, not those of Trumbull Patch. Mr. Fuchs is a former Trumbull Patch journalist.
The Crusade is over. Bill Holden wins.
Trumbull is in the throes of redistricting to correct population imbalances that have arisen since our last realignment, in 1985. That effort gave Trumbull its present alignment of seven election districts, each with three town council seats.
These districts are no longer equal. Population growth and the addition of several apartment and condominium developments have unbalanced the districts. Now a Redistricting Committee has the task of rebalancing district populations to meet the federal One Person, One Vote law.
Holden's crusade is to reduce the number of districts and thereby decrease the power of the minority party. He began during the 1985 redistricting process, when he wrote the minority report that sought a return to the just replaced five districts. 28 years later he continues.
His ability to do so comes about because he is the Republican Registrar of Voters and Chair of the Redistricting Committee. He is joined on the committee by two other Republicans, Town Clerk Suzanne Burr Monaco and Seventh District Council Representative Tony Scinto, and two Democrats, Voter Registrar Jane Aiello and Third District Council Woman Vickie Tesoro.
Holden is also the “unit historian” and the repository of voting law knowledge. And he is a citizen who has participated about as richly as any one person can in the governance of his community – seemingly since the Republican party was founded in the 1850s (OK, the late 1850s).
The current effort comes on the heels of his seeking to do the same last year, as Vice Chair of Charter Revision Commission. There he reproposed his 1985 five district model. He also proposed restructuring the town council to make seven of its 21 seats subject to town wide voting. Together these would have upped the majority party's state allowed maximum from 14 to 16 seats. But both proposals were almost unanimously defeated by the council.
His motivation appears to be a lack of respect for minority rights. “Guaranteeing a minority party one-third of the seats is excessive” was his comment at a recent redistricting committee meeting.
He seems to display a minority party mindset that cries out for rules allowing a Town Council majority to check a First Selectman and Board of Finance of the other party. Holden wants the majority – today Republicans – to be able to hold more than a two-thirds super majority so that even with a couple of defections or absences they still have the votes to override a First Selectman’s veto of a piece of legislation or of the budget.
Holden has two additional objectives. Along with the rest of the committee, he wants to minimize the number of split districts - local districts whose boundaries do not conform to those of state election districts.
Trumbull's lone example is the newly added 122nd state district. It has too few residents to comprise a single local district, and so must be combined with a part of the 123rd state district to make up one local district.
During even year state elections split district polling places must have separate lines to serve each of the state districts: checkers, ballots, voting machines and vote talliers. Each line is a cost – essentially one of the costs of democracy.
The Redistricting Process
The redistricting committee has held three meetings. At the first, on February 21st, First Selectman Tim Herbst began by charging the committee “to be fair, apolitical… (assure) One Person, One Vote… avoid even the appearance of gerrymandering… create districts as close as possible to equal sizes.” He closed by saying “I hope it will be a smooth process.”
The first order of business was reviewing Trumbull's current voting map – the 1985 lay out. The committee, as one, agreed that that that state structure is flawed. Scinto later called it “faulty,” as his district spans much of the southern tier of the town, while most others are geographically compact.
As the Chair was preparing to call an adjournment Ms. Tesoro submitted a map of the seven districts redrawn to balance population and to include the single split district - “for discussion,” she said.
This took the air out of the Republican side, in part because it seemed a bold play by the Democrats when the Republicans were prepared for no more than an organizational meeting.
Also, the map was prepared using Trumbull’s new Geographic Information System, a computer application that integrates the Assessor’s data base with other town data, here, voter registration. GIS has the capability to create new multi-colored maps in less than half an hour, then easily move populations and district lines around to explore “what ifs.”
Holden admitted after that meeting that he does not fully understand GIS. He was prepared to proceed the old fashioned way – using crayons and an adding machine – a process that might take the better part of a day to produce a single map whose accuracy may be disputable.
At the second meeting the Republicans unveiled their four district map and talked to its benefits.
They ignored the elephant in the room – their super majority issue. Republicans seemingly cannot bring themselves to publicly articulate their driving rationale. So they mask it with sheer arguments like more districts reduce costs, larger districts create better community and a ballot with more candidates enhances voting.
The sheerest of all goes to the benefits of cost reductions – fewer telephones, fewer voting machines, fewer poll workers and fewer sandwiches. Holden apparently believes that the number of voting machines depends on the number of locations, not the number of voters, and overlooks the inconvenience of longer lines and potentially aggravated parking problems.
When he totals these savings he manages to reduce these costs of democracy by less than $8,000. Mere pocket change in a $300 million budget (Split districts come into play only in even year state and federal elections. $300 million approximates two years of town budgets).
The Democrats presented their seven district plan at the meeting on Tuesday (March 6th). It simply reshapes current districts. It integrates the 122nd and takes advantage of the 134th being almost precisely the size of two Trumbull districts. Then it moves residents at the borders of existing districts to achieve population balance.
The difference between the plans is huge. The Republican model has three districts with five council seats and a Super District with six, the Democrats’ has seven districts, all with three seats and all with the same number of residents.
The Republicans' moves some 18,000 residents – half of our town’s population – and 10,900 voters. In contrast, reshaping current boundaries requires moving only 4,900 residents and 3,100 voters.
Tuesday's discussions ended with the two groups agreeing to disagree - the most likely outcome when the committee votes on which plan to forward to the town council.
But no matter. Republicans hold a majority on the committee and will get the four districts they want. And with a 14 – 7 majority in town council, they will get what they want there.
The change will become effective with this year's primaries.
Holden wins. Democracy suffers. But we'll save $8,000.