Karla's Kolumn: No easy answers for redistricting
December 9, 2021
Redistricting in Wyoming seems to have gotten harder this year than in past decades due to declining population in certain areas.
Listening to a portion of the Joint Corporations Committee work on the plans from all 10 regions in the state, it appears there are issues in several regions with at least three of them outside the preferred plus or minus 5% deviation from the ideal population.
The ideal population per each legislative district is based on the entire state’s population and dividing by 60 — number of House districts — or 30 — number of Senate districts. This is what our Legislature has come up with to achieve the one-person one-vote constitutional requirement.
Prior to 1992 state legislators were elected by county but after lawsuits and a Supreme Court ruling about ensuring one person, one vote, Wyoming was divided into 60 House and 30 Senate districts with two House districts being nestled into one Senate district.
I was in Lovell at the time of the first redistricting and I remember the concerns in that area were more about representation. Would Big Horn County ever have a legislator from the area or would it always come from Park County? How well would someone from Park County represent our needs in Big Horn County?
But since 1992, the Big Horn Basin legislators, six representatives and three senators have worked together in the best interests of the Basin, supporting one another and helping one another.
The latest round of redistricting is underway following the 2020 census and there are issues in the southeastern portion of the state with Laramie having enough population for 11 House districts if they take in Goshen County, which apparently Goshen County does not want.
There are issues in the southwestern portion of the state and of course, thanks to declining population here in Washakie and Hot Springs counties, there are issues in the Big Horn Basin.
Big Horn Basin county clerks have worked together, with the support of the legislators for a plan that would have the region and each district at -6% deviation from the ideal, and higher than the 5% deviation recommended.
This keeps the current districts intact with a few boundary modifications but nothing extreme.
Yes, there are ways to get under that 5% deviation and while it would meet the constitutional requirements it would not make any sense.
One plan would have House District 27, currently represented by Mike Greear of Worland going clear to the city limits of Casper; and House District 28, represented by John Winter of Thermopolis, going further into Fremont County (which creates other issues in Fremont County).
Another plan would decrease the number of districts in the Basin, thus decreasing representation and would require a major split of the town of Thermopolis.
Park County Deputy Clerk Hans Odde was right when he said at the public meeting in Worland last month that trying to redistrict and fit the right number of people in the district is like pushing on one side of the balloon, the one side of the balloon gets smaller but the other side gets much larger so you squeeze the other side and it goes back and forth as you struggle to find the balance or ideal population.
I am all for one-person, one vote, but I am also for being well represented in the area in which I choose to live. Will Greear be able to serve the people in Natrona County? I am sure he would give it his best effort but the area in Casper is vastly different than the Big Horn Basin.
The reason that the Basin legislators work well together is the common interests that exist in the Basin. This is why many people feel they can contact any Big Horn Basin legislator with a concern.
What happens next year in the election if the district that includes Washakie County does include a large portion of Natrona County. Will a Natrona County resident get elected and if so will that representative take care of the needs that we have in Washakie County?
In addition to the population deviation questions, clerks are also trying to work with special district boundaries and to eliminate pockets of isolated voters.
For example there are a handful of voters in Frannie in Big Horn County who vote in Park County. For the Frannie races or Big Horn County races it is easy for people to figure out who voted for what based on those few votes. While everyone else’s vote is anonymous those in small pockets do not have that luxury.
In Wyoming we cherish our wide open spaces but when it comes to redistricting those spaces prove difficult, which is why District 27 would have to go clear to Casper just to get enough population to meet the ideal population for that district. Everyone knows how wide open the space is between here and there.
I don’t have the answers for the Joint Corporations Committee. I wish I had. Finalizing this year’s redistricting map is not going to be easy and once they come up with a map to present to the full legislature in February anything can happen.
I know the legislators are trying hard to find the best solutions. There was discussion about preparing for future lawsuits depending on which map was approved, especially with the Big Horn Basin’s -6% deviation.
It’s a good thing most maps are made on the computers these days as I don’t think there are enough erasers in the state that would be needed before a final map is approved by the Legislature.
I know they need to try and meet the constitutional requirements of one-person, one-vote.
I hope they can do that with some common sense, find the best solutions so residents do not feel disenfranchised but that they can feel well represented by their legislators.
I hope they do not make decisions based on fear of litigation.