After months of debate, Burlington's city council decided on a new redistricting plan. Population shifts in Vermont's largest city meant that they were forced to come up with a new representation system to make sure everyone's vote counts equally. City Council President Joan Shannon says the growth of the colleges is responsible.
"What's kind-of interesting is that what is the area that is supposedly under-represented has the lowest voter rate in the city," she says. "And that's because most of the residents there are students."
Right now, the city has seven wards with two councilors each.
The new map splits the city into districts and wards. There are four districts, each with two wards. There would be a councilor and school board member representing each ward and each district. That means there will be a total of 12 city council members, two less than there are right now.
"In one election they'll be voting for the wards, and in the next election they'll be voting for the districts," Shannon says. "So they won't be all in the same election."
Critics call this plan a complicated solution to simple shifts in neighborhood populations. Shannon acknowledges there were simpler solutions, like redrawing the lines for the seven wards, or splitting the city into four larger wards.
"It wasn't complicated to do and we had the maps to do it, it was just not favored," she says.
She says some councilors were concerned that larger wards would mean representatives wouldn't live as close to their voters, and it would be a larger area to campaign in. Also, she says if they redrew the boundary lines, some Old North End voters would be grouped with New North End voters, and their priorities might not be heard.
"This will add complication to the number of ballots in each of the polling places," she says.
Especially when the legislators who represent Burlington's voters in Montpelier are chosen.
"There are also the representative districts," Shannon says. "The state representative districts are not aligned with the wards or the city districts."
Voters will have to decide whether to approve this plan on Town Meeting Day. If they don't, Shannon says the council will have to take up the issue again or the issue could end up in court.
This is a charter change, so anything voters pass would also need to be approved by the state, which Shannon says they expect would happen. So if voters approve this redistricting, it would be in place for the 2015 elections.
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