No More Gerrymanders: Transforming Connecticut into One At-Large Super District

by Sheahan Virgin, Super Districts // Published August 23, 2011
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Highlights

  • Redistricting, which occurs every ten years, ensures political lines reflect population changes and that each district has approximately the same number of voters per seat.
  • Connecticut currently has monopoly U.S. House representation, with Democrats holding all five seats even though more than 40% of voters are likely to back Republicans in competitive statewide federal races.
  • Lawmakers in Connecticut are debating how to redraw the boundaries of the state's five U.S. congressional districts in the wake of the 2010 Census. Both chambers of the state legislature must approve a plan by a two-thirds vote before it becomes law. Fully in control of the state legislature, the Democratic Party is expected to push through a new map that protects its incumbents and monopoly control of the delegation.
  • The controversies associated with redistricting are products of our winner-take-all elections, in which 50.01% of voters can elect 100% of representation. Winner-take-all rules marginalize like-minded voters of a political minority no matter their relative numerical strength, thereby depressing turnout and providing inadequate representation.
  • As part of an ongoing project, FairVote has produced a "super district" map designed for election with a proportional voting system. Our proportional plan upholds U.S. Supreme Court rulings on apportionment while guaranteeing fairer representation. Additionally, it would end gerrymandering and result in more nuanced voter choice than possible under the current winner-take-all system.
  • Proportional voting plans are legal under the U.S. Constitution, but would require Congress to repeal a 1967 law mandating single-member districts.

The Political Context in Connecticut

Connecticut and the 2010 Census: From 2000 to 2010, Connecticut's population grew from 3.41 million to 3.57 million, for an increase of 4.9%. This rate, while significantly below the national average of 9.7%, nevertheless outperformed the Northeast's 3.2%, with only New Hampshire besting the state in the region. Racially, Connecticut is still predominately White (71.2%), although Hispanics (13.4%) and Blacks (9.4%) continue to grow appreciably as a percent share of the state. Connecticut emerged from the reapportionment process having neither lost nor gained any congressional seats.

As is inevitable, the last decade has seen the populations of the five districts fall out equilibrium; the 2010 Census showed the most populous Second District having 729,771 residents and the least populous Fourth with 706,740, a difference of 23,031. Due to Supreme Court rulings that require a state's congressional districts to be equal in population, redistricting is necessary to bring the districts back into balance.

With Democrats in control of redistricting (although because they lack the needed supermajority, Democrats will not be able to ignore Republican input) and holding all five U.S. House seats, congressional redistricting in 2011 is expected to be a more sedate affair than in 2001, when the state, having lost a seat during the 2000 Census reapportionment process, struggled to collapse six districts into five.

State Democrats to Protect National IncumbentsWith the redistricting process under the direction of the Democratic-dominated Connecticut General Assembly, the party will be looking to construct safer seats in the historically Republican Fourth and Fifth Districts, presently held by incumbent Democrats Jim Himes and Christopher Murphy, respectively. As such, the state legislature's map will likely buttress Himes and Murphy at the marginal expense of their House colleagues Rosa DeLauro in the Third and John Larson in the First, both of whom should have in 2012 less demanding paths to victory after having been returned to Congress with robust majorities in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Such a strategically pro-Democratic redistricting plan, combined with the winner-take-all electoral system, would undoubtedly deprive Connecticut Republicans of what they believe to be their two greatest opportunities to make inroads into the state's congressional delegation, thereby making the state's 2012 House elections almost certainly uncompetitive. Put simply, the vote of a Republican in Connecticut, of which there were 460,000 in House racdes during the 2010 midterms, is set to become even more inconsequential.

Intra-Party Quarrels as Lawmakers Jockey for PositionPerhaps the most interesting political game involves the rumored battle over Bridgeport, the Democratic enclave that provided Himes his 11,621 vote margin (he won Bridgeport by 23,624 votes) when he narrowly edged ten-term Republican incumbent Christopher Shays in 2008. In April, the local press reported that Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan, who is pondering a bid in the Fifth District after current incumbent Murphy indicated that he would run for Joseph Lieberman's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat, was looking to buoy his prospects in the GOP-leaning constituency by redrawing the state's most populous city out of the Fourth.

Donovan also serves on the eight-member bipartisan committee the General Assembly has tasked with drafting the new district lines and could potentially seek to make the Fifth District more favorable to his run for office. Donovan denies harboring such plans, but this possible intra-party fight highlights two important points:  first, the thoroughly undemocratic, backroom jockeying that commonly accompanies the redistricting process, and second, the way in which gerrymandering is an inherently biased process in which politicians often at least have the potential of pursuing their personal interests.

FairVote's Super District Alternative

 

 

 

Image:  Connecticut's Current Congressional Districts (left) and the Super District Alternative (right)

Time for an Honest, Proportional, and Fair System: These controversies demonstrate the way in which the current system is inadequate: it fails not only to represent accurately the people of Connecticut, but reduces voters to mere pawns in a grand political game designed to benefit party elites rather than the people. Even in states unaffected by reapportionment, there is the impulse to engage in gerrymandering and other highly undemocratic maneuvering.

FairVote's solution to these problems, endemic to the current system, is to consolidate all five of Connecticut's single-member districts into one at-large, multi-seat super district employing proportional allocation. If Connecticut were to become a single super district, the state as a whole would simply elect five representatives, with 714,819 people represented per seat and, at a minimum, 16.67% of the vote (called the threshold of exclusion) necessary for a candidate to win a seat. Importantly, the new proportional, multi-seat system would produce a congressional delegation more reflective of popular opinion, infusing every voice with significance and empowering previously discouraged voters.

Partisan Analysis of FairVote's Super District Alternative: In a proportional system, a state that is as divided as Connecticut (with a statewide partisan index of 57.6% Democratic)  would be highly unlikely to produce a congressional delegation uniformly from one party. With winner-take-all, single-member districts eliminated, the Democratic Party would no longer have 'blue barricades' to shield their candidates from the state electorate's substantial contingent of Republican voters, causing their monopoly of U.S. House seats to collapse. Democrats would be well-positioned to win three seats and Republicans two seats, although both parties would need to compete with independent candidates in a state with a tradition of strong independent candidacies.


Super District


Number of Seats


Population per Seat


Threshold to Win One Seat


Partisan Index* (D)


Projected Party Split


Districts Used to Create Super District

 

At large

 

 

5

 

714,819

 

16.67%

 

57.6%

 

Democrats: 3
GOP: 2
(with independents influential)

 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5


Voting Rights Analysis of FairVote's Super District Alternative: The new system's scrapping of the winner-take-all framework would provide racial minorities with increased opportunities for fair representation; instead of having to win a plurality in a single-member district, each group would now need only 16.67% of the vote to win a seat in the super district. Although the African American and Latino voting age populations, at 8.9% and 11.6%, respectively, are below the threshold of exclusion, both groups grew considerably over the last decade (the African share of the population increased 16.9% and the Latino share 49.6%). Thus, voters in each group would be well-positioned to join with other like-minded voters to win seats now and likely would become increasingly competitive as their numbers grow.


Super District


Number of Seats


Population per Seat


Threshold to Win One Seat


White VAP


Black VAP

 
Latino VAP

 

At large

 

 

5

 

714,819

 

16.67%

 

74.2%

 

8.9%

 

11.6%

 

Taking the Gerrymander out of Connecticut: To continue their domination of Connecticut's U.S. House races, Democratic candidates would have to win more than 83 percent of the statewide vote. With their 42.4% partisan index, Republicans would gain new relevance, strongly positioned to win two seats.




Existing Single-Member Districts


Projected 2011 Proposal


FairVote Super District

 

Partisan Split Projection

 

 

5 Democrats
0 Republicans

 

5 Democrats
0 Repupblicans

 

3 Democrats
2 Republicans
(independents would challenge for a seat)

 


Race and Representation

 

 

5 white
0 black
0 Latino

 

 

5 white voters' preference

0 black and Latino voters'  strong preference

 

4 white voters' preference

1 minoriy voter influence

(increased opportunities for strong racial minority candidates)

Under FairVote's plan, neither party would have the power to gerrymander safe single-member districts that distribute their supporters where needed and their opposition's voters where convenient. Rather than having one-party dominate its U.S. House seats, Connecticut's congressional delegation would become more reflective of popular opinion. With the winner-take-all, single-member district format scrapped, all of Connecticut's voters would matter, equally. This is the way democracy should be.