Spence: Multi-member constituencies dilute minority votes | Chroniclers

The Tripartite Legislative Distribution Council (LAB) voted this month to recommend a new legislative seat map, which is required every ten years after the census, thus eliminating the use of multi-member constituencies. The new map, if ultimately passed, consists of 150 single-member districts, so every Vermonter will be represented by one and only one House member. This is a formidable step for a number of reasons, such as better accountability to voters, cheaper political campaigns, and greater overall fairness, but one of the main ones is that it is is a step towards erasing the elements of historical and systemic racism in our electoral systems.

At the May 2021 LAB meeting, Vermont Racial Equity Director Xusana Davis and a member of the Racial Equity Task Force, Brittney Larrabee testified about the unfortunate racial history behind the multi-district districts. members and advocated for a single membership card. Davis and Larrabee recommended that the LAB “modernize the reassignment board criteria to include racial and social equity as explicit considerations”, and supported their position with a link to a 1978 Michigan Law Review article. , explaining how a method used in the past to dilute the votes of BIPOC and other minority populations was the creation of multi-member constituencies. A striking line from this article; “Multi-member ridings not only increase the difficulty of electing minority candidates, but they also decrease the likelihood that the minority will be adequately represented by elected white candidates.”

Multi-member legislative constituencies are a gerrymandering tool, plain and simple. In Jim Crow’s day, they used to join a majority black district with a majority white district to create a two-member white majority district in which the white “majority” could elect both representatives. This trick can, of course, be used to deprive any type of minority population of the right to vote, such as rural versus urban interests, or partisan affiliation, etc. This is why almost all other states in the Union have eliminated multi-member constituencies. Let’s not be the last place with this reminder of our racist past still in the books.

The people of Vermont in general also seem to enjoy the benefits of all first past the post. The LAB released a public poll that got 634 responses, with 75 percent of them saying they wanted all single-member districts. The LAB listened and, in a tripartite vote, did the right thing.

Unfortunately, the legislature itself will have the last word and there are already rumors that the majority party in Montpellier will not support the move towards all single-member constituencies. Why not? 88 of the 150 outgoing MPs and 27 of the 30 outgoing senators were elected from multi-member constituencies. Outgoing politicians love to preach “change” and sacrifice themselves for the greater good, until it jeopardizes their re-election. They hope this problem will stay on the radar of most Vermonters. Let’s make sure not!

It’s all well and good for Vermont politicians to throw stones at lawmakers in other states for protecting archaic election laws and traditions in places like Georgia and Texas, but how about cleaning up first our own greenhouse.

One way for ordinary citizens to amplify the message of Xusana Davis and the Racial Equity Task Force is to get involved in upcoming Board of Civil Authority (BCA) meetings. Each town and city in Vermont has a BCA, made up of its elected justices of the peace, and these councils are invited to provide their views on the proposed recommendations. Speaking to your local justices of the peace and relaying Davis and LAB’s message in favor of single-member districts will go a long way in convincing them of the importance of following these recommendations.

During these conversations, remind them that when the LAB surveyed the people of Vermont, more than 75 percent of them said they preferred all House districts to be districts to one. single member. You don’t see this kind of overwhelming support for so many things in government – let’s leverage it and make sure that when the legislature approves a district map next spring, it’s a map that reflects the wishes of the people of Vermont. .

As it turns out, it will also remove a vestige of systemic racism from our electoral system. Following national calls for a change in the way we handle racial discussions as a country, it seems the first step is to ensure that everyone can get a fair seat at the table.

Shayne Spence was a Republican candidate for Vermont House in 2020 and is now a Justice of the Peace in Johnson. She lives in Norwich. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.

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Robert Valdivia

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