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Monday, November 14, 2011

League-Common Cause meeting on Redistricting

We heard two able speakers at our our jointly sponsored meeting on redistricting November 3.  Ryan Taylor, staff to the Reapportionment Commission, discussed the fact that while RI did only gained about 4,400 people since the last census, our population concentrations shifted, which means that we will have to change district lines.   The shift away from the coast may be partly due to the rise in real estate prices there, children growing up and being unable to continue to live in those communities.  Also, while ten years ago the coastal homes were largely owned by Rhode Islanders, now they are owned by people whose main residences are out of state.  Ryan wants to talk with people from all around the state to find out what about the current districts has worked well, and what has not.  He generously offered to make appointments to show anyone who wants to try drawing new districts how to do it.  Anyone wishing to contact him or to see the dates and times of upcoming meetings at the state house and in each county to show residents the new preliminary plans, should check the web site at www.riredistricting.com.  Times and dates will be changed with little notice due to the pension discussions going on at the State House.  The old schedule may no longer be valid. 
John Marion, director of Common Cause, talked about how Rhode Island’s redistricting requirements and process are different than those in other states.  The Department of Justice, under the current administration, has mandated that state office districts should have no more than 5% variation in population.  Rhode Island is trying for 2%.  US Congressional districts are required to have no more than 1% variation in population.  Members of the US Congress are not required to live in their districts.  Only ten states mandate that electoral districts have competition as a goal.  Rhode Island is not one of them.  Two states, Arizona and California, tried have non-partisan redistricting commissions this year, in an effort to remove partisan bias.  Arizona’s governor did not like the results of the process, which did not favor her party, and has removed the head of the commission.  Suits are raging there.  California’s commission created sixty newly competitive districts, and those results appear to be standing so far.  Since Rhode Island does not allow initiative and referendum, John said the only way to make our redistricting commissions more competitive would be at a constitutional convention.  There may be one on the ballot in 2014.
John mentioned that the following website will allow you to play with redistricting.  However, unlike the software used by the RI consultants, which is too enormous to use on home computers, the downloadable version does not have political boundaries drawn on it, so you would have to draw them in yourself.    http://gardow.com/davebradlee/redistricting/launchapp.html
PRELIMINARY PLANS are to be given to the Commission November 16 at 6:00 pm.  Check the schedule before leaving for the meeting, as all times and dates are subject to change due to the Pension hearings going on at the State House.

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