Burlington redistricting deadline looms

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 6:08 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A re-districting deadline is fast approaching that could remake Burlington’s electoral map, especially an area encompassing University Heights.

Some Ward 8 residents have long wanted the political map re-drawn because of low voter turnout in the area dominated by college housing. The current proposed map features 8 wards and 4 districts. Ward 8 -- the “salamander district” -- is easy to spot. Where most districts in the city are drawn with straight lines, Ward 8 attempted to carve out student housing.

“The voter turnout, the citizen engagement are important for a ward to function well and I think having a well-functioning ward is important for the whole city,” said Anne Brena, who has lived in Ward 8 since 2001 and has been heavily involved in the Citizen Redistricting Committee. She says it’s been difficult to find people to run for any offices, including council races. Many of the students live in dorms and are not engaged in local politics. Right now, Ward 8 has no representation after both councilors left their terms early. “We hope to see balanced wards, not just for Ward 8, but for all the downtown wards where there is a balance of students, long-term residents, including both property owners homeowners, and long-term tenants.”

The City Council will be weighing in on the new map on Monday. It’s not publicly available yet, but some councilors hope it will better distribute the city’s student population. But many Ward 1 residents are concerned. The area including UVM and the hospital runs to the Winooski River. Residents say they want their ward to maintain a balance of long-term residents and students rather than take on too many students like Ward 8.

“My hope is that we end up with a map here that both meets the goal of more equally dividing the on-campus student population in Ward 8 while making as minimal changes as possible to existing ward boundaries,” said Councilor Ben Traverse, D-Ward 5.

Former Councilor Jack Hanson used to represent Wards 1 and 8 and says students need to be embraced as community members because they make up nearly a quarter of the city. “I find that when you do bring students into the process you also get better outcomes and get more voices and perspectives that really help us lead to better policies as a community,” he said.

Everyone we spoke with wants city wards to be equitable and have boundaries drawn on actual neighborhood lines as opposed to gerrymandering of Ward 8.

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Burlington redistricting effort focuses on Ward 8, shifting student populations