Connecticut’s state constitution requires that districts must be consistent with federal standards, districts must minimize town border splits, and representatives must live within their district. The constitution also specifies the multi-step process to be used to draw district lines. Via the bipartisan Reapportionment Committee, the state legislature is tasked with drawing the congressional and state district lines to be approved with a 2/3 majority approval within each chamber. If the Committee is unable to present a set of maps by a certain date, the task falls to a nine-person bipartisan Reapportionment Commission consisting of eight legislators (four Democrats and four Republicans) and one Connecticut voter chosen by the eight legislative leaders. The commission has the authority to both create and approve maps with no further involvement of the whole Legislature. In 2021, the bi partisan commission was able to agree upon maps for the House and Senate districts. A special master, a third tier of the process, was appointed to create maps for the congressional districts.
Advocacy efforts made by Common Cause Connecticut, ACLU Connecticut, NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut (LWV-CT) to advocate eliminating prison gerrymandering were effective and implementation was quick. The enacted reform extends to the reallocation of incarcerated people within state legislative maps.
Overall State Grade: C+
Lack of transparency: The Connecticut state constitution stipulates that redistricting must be bipartisan. There are, however, no constitutional requirements related to public engagement. Redistricting in Connecticut has been conducted largely behind closed doors. For instance, public hearings were held only at the outset of the process. The public saw maps only after they had been approved by the Reapportionment Commission and were not adjustable. This led advocates to feel that their voices were not taken into significant account.
Lack of accessibility: The state legislature did a poor job communicating updates regarding the redistricting process to members of the public. Advocates were also unaware of any language assistance options.
- Public education and advocacy can make an impact despite roadblocks: Although organizations like the League of Women Voters of Connecticut (LWV-CT) hosted education events and provided testimony, its reach was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and by issues systemic to the redistricting process itself. The League noted that the lack of transparency and accountability created an intentionally opaque process with a correlative lack of public awareness. Nevertheless, one success from this cycle was the media coverage LWV-CT was able to garner through ongoing Letter to the Editor campaigns and media interviews during the redistricting cycle. Networking efforts also led to ongoing collaborations, including one with the Trinity College experts as described below.
- Modern mapping tools and analysis to guide districting decisions should be used: The LWV-CT contracted with experts from Trinity College to conduct an ensemble analysis21 to assess the role of incumbency in redistricting. The analysis shows that “about 52% of the statistically generated or “model” maps included a single incumbent. In contrast, about 97% of the maps adopted by the bipartisan commission had a single incumbent.” The use of ensemble analysis confirmed suspicions of intentional mapmaking patterns that favor keeping incumbents in power. The ensemble analysis method can generate thousands of theoretical district maps that adhere to the requirements of population equality and minimization of town border splits. This can be cross referenced to see where incumbent addresses lie in these theoretical, model maps and be used to record partisan gerrymandering attempts in the future.
- The redistricting process should be brought into greater public view: Despite public hearings, much of the current redistricting process is still accomplished behind closed doors. Greater transparency is needed throughout the process including, but not limited to, establishing a delineated set of steps prior to adopting maps, publishing draft maps, and soliciting public input before final acceptance.
- Work must start now to increase public education and advocacy on reform measures: Given the many competing priorities held by legislators, community members, and organizations, work must start now to ensure momentum to pass redistricting process alternative measures (such as independent redistricting commissions) continues ahead of 2031.