Wyoming legislators continue work on redistricting in the stateWritten by Christy Martinez
“If everybody doesn’t like the plan, we’ve probably done a pretty good job, because nobody will be happy with everything we’ve done,” House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee member Representative Pete Illoway from House District 42 in Laramie County told the Wyoming Stock Growers Association at their annual convention in December.
Of why the state must redistrict, Illoway said the Wyoming Constitution states that at the first budget session of the Wyoming Legislature following the federal census, the legislature shall reapportion its membership based on that census.
“Any bill to reapportion the legislature should be introduced in a budget session in the same manner as in a general session,” explained Illoway. “We’re doing that, and every other state is doing the same thing.”
Illoway said that, looking at population percentage changes from 1960 to 2010, in 1960 the population of Wyoming was 330,000, while in 2010 it was 564,000 people.
“In that 50-year span, the population has risen about 71 percent,” said Illoway. “More importantly, since 2000 Wyoming’s population has risen from 494,000 to 564,000. That’s about a 70,000 increase.”
Illoway said Campbell County increased about 12,000, while Sublette County increased about 5,000, Teton County increased 3,000 and Laramie County increased by about 10,000.
“If we follow the one man, one vote federal statutes, we have to redistrict, because you all have the right to vote,” he said. “We have to redistrict so everybody gets a chance to have their voice heard.”
Illoway said that, at the initial April meeting, committee members decided there would be 60 House districts in Wyoming, nested within 30 Senate districts.
“The ideal population for Senate districts is 18,788 with a deviation of 10 percent, which means it can be plus or minus five percent. The ideal in the House districts is almost 9,400,” explained Illoway. “That’s one of the problems – in some areas we have to shed population to be in the ideal range.”
The committee adopted seven guiding principles for redistricting, the first of which is that election districts should be contiguous, compact and reflect a community of interest.
“We’ve worked diligently to do that, and it’s not easy,” said Illoway.
The second principle is that the population of election districts should be substantially equal, with a range of deviation not to exceed 10 percent, and the next is that, to the greatest extent possible, county boundaries should be followed.
“With 23 counties and 564,000 people, it’s very hard to follow those boundaries,” commented Illoway.
The next principle is that the majority of the population in each county should be in one district, and census blocks, which are the smallest block, should be followed.
“We don’t split census blocks, because in Wyoming we can end up with only one person in a census block,” he said.
Avoiding the dilution of voting power for minorities is also on the list.
“In Fremont County they’re familiar with the lawsuit with the Native Americans, and we have followed that principle to the letter, along with the Federal Voting Rights Act.”
The seventh principle relates to 60 House seats and 30 Senate seats, with consideration given for two contiguous House districts in each Senate district, and significant geographic features should be considered in establishing districts.
In the proposed House plan that came about after considering those seven principles, Illoway said that Campbell County would have five representatives, and Fremont County would have a Native American district, with 60 percent or more Native Americans within it. Because of that challenge, Dubois was kept with Fremont County, but the district reaches clear to Jeffrey City.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s as close as we could get it,” said Illoway.
He also said there is controversy surrounding Meeteetse and whether it will end up with the rest of Park County or Thermopolis in Hot Springs County.
“It’s difficult to figure out how to form districts and keep the communities of interest the same, and the Big Horn Basin has problems because of lack of growth,” said Illoway.
In Sublette County, he said they tried to keep the county whole, but moved Bondurant into Teton County with Wilson and northern Lincoln County.
Illoway mentioned Natrona, Johnson, Sheridan, Platte and Campbell as counties that stayed whole in the proposed plan.
“In Albany County we tried to bring Rock River and Mcfadden back into Albany County, but that would affect what happens in Sweetwater County,” he added.
The committee’s next meeting is Jan. 19 in Cheyenne, where some of the discrepancies will be worked out among towns and counties.
“We feel pretty good about the Senate plan, and we also feel pretty good about the House plan,” said Illoway. “I would hope that, when we introduce the plan Feb. 15, there won’t be too many changes. If we don’t get a plan and can’t get it done by the end of the legislative session, I’m sure there will be a special section, and that’s why we’re working very hard.”