PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island General Assembly approved the newly-drawn redistricting maps on Tuesday for the House, Senate, and congressional district borders with the legislation protecting incumbent seats.
The once-a-decade reapportionment passed 58-8 in the House, and 29-9 in the Senate. The legislation now goes to Gov. Daniel J. McKee for his signature.
The Special Commission on Reapportionment’s redrawn maps keeps the state’s 113 incumbents legislators in their existing districts, with the mapping being guided by 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data.
The redistricting legislation was introduced by Sen. Stephen R. Archambault, D-Smithfield, and Rep. Robert D. Phillips, D-Woonsocket, Cumberland.
Advocacy groups have been critical of leadership influence favoring incumbent seats, which can hinder the electoral aspirations of Republican and progressive candidates.
John Marion, executive director at Common Cause Rhode Island and an advocate for a fair and equitable election process, said the practice of redrawing the maps has been plagued by legislation that includes incumbent protections that corrupts the process.
Marion said the “General Assembly overwhelmingly approved maps that largely maintain the status quo in Rhode Island politics. That means all 113 incumbent legislators, both Democratic and Republican, were kept in the borders of their existing districts.”
Marion noted that “there were some changes to politically insulate favored members, even more, from electoral accountability by shifting their district lines to add sympathetic voters.”
“When maps are drawn to protect incumbents they ensure that the general election is less competitive,” he said. “Oftentimes that shifts competition to the party primaries where far fewer voters participate, and those who do vote hold more ideologically extreme positions. That is how partisan gerrymandering feeds our problems with political polarization.”
Marion said the General Assembly, to its credit, did not make changes to the Congressional districts in the wake of Rep. James Langevin’s surprise retirement. “The maps also take a first step toward fixing the problem of prison-based gerrymandering,” he said.
“The process now shifts to cities and towns, some of whom need to redraw council districts,” said Marion. “That will happen very quickly, as all district lines need to be in place well before candidates file for office in June.”
Marion said in the future Common Cause would like to see the state’s district maps be redrawn by an independent commission, free from the influence of the General Assembly.
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio’s office said he supports the legislation and believes the process was open and transparent. The result was a fair realignment of the districts to account for changes in population as measured by the census data.
Archambault, who co-chaired the reapportionment commission, said he was proud of what the Senate accomplished in drafting the legislation according to the recommendations made by the redistricting commission.
“We were able to commit to an openness and transparency every step of the way, so that all interested parties could see what was going on at all times,” he said. “That includes maintaining a website that made all redistricting plans and census data available to the public and giving everyone access to the software that was used to redraw the maps.”
Archambault said during his floor remarks that the legislation is the product of months of hearings undertaken by the special reapportionment commission.
“As a commission, we sought to conduct a thorough and open process,” he said. “We sought input from the public and met multiple times in every county in the state. The subsequent hearing process in the Senate Judiciary Committee was equally open and transparent, and robust.”
On the House side, Phillips said it was an honor and pleasure to work with such a dedicated group of individuals on the special commission.
“I’m particularly proud of the fact that we obtained so much input from citizens around the state, holding our meetings in several cities and towns to make it more accessible to everyone,” said Phillips, who served as commission co-chair. “Reapportionment can be daunting and complex, but I’m glad we took everyone’s concerns into account and came up with a fair and equitable system of reapportionment.”
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi’s office said he appreciated the hard work and dedication of the 18-member special commission.
The state constitution calls for the General Assembly to redraw the borders of its districts as well as two congressional districts after each 10-year federal census. The revised maps, redistricting plans and census data that was used during the process can all be found online at riredistricting.org.
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.
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Once again the GA puts itself ahead of the taxpayers. So, what else is new?