Election Redistricting Catastrophe: Stratford’s Process Plummets into Chaos

Republicans Silencing Democratic Voices During The Process Also Silences Your Voice

The Stratford Republicans have once again proven they are determined to maintain absolute control over our town. As we predicted by their calculated move to delay Stratford’s redistricting process, the Stratford Republican Registrar of Voters Lou DeCilio who is also Chair of the Stratford Republican Town Committee, showed up to the April Election District Revision Commission meeting and bulldozed through his map. They blatantly ignored any input from the Democrats on the Commission and callously dismissed any concerns about ensuring a fair process for our residents.

After further review, and in what can only be construed as an abuse of power, DeCilio has gerrymandered the Town Council Minority Leader and highest profile Democratic incumbent, Kaitlyn Shake, out of District 2 and into District 7. Saving the trees in Longbrook Park, amplifying community voices around the Center School development, securing increased funding for a South End flood study, advocating for stronger public health measures and vaccine outreach during COVID, increasing public safety measures, supporting many small businesses in her district, being a fierce advocate for funding the Board of Education year after year, and even introducing a Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Emergency to the Town Council before the state passed the law, Kaitlyn has proven to be a tireless advocate for the people in her district and the entire town.

The Republican moves Shake into the sole district where a Republican incumbent is running for re-election to Town Council. Why? To silence her. It is commonly known that partisan mapmakers move district lines to advance a political goal and maximize their partisan gain. They denied an opposition candidate their incumbency and the opportunity to run for re-election.

Land Use Gerrymandering Remains Unaddressed

In 2013, DeCilio made a significant change by swapping the names of District 2 and District 3. Consequently, District 3 and District 4, which consist mainly of minority residents, have shared a single seat on the 5-member Commissions, which equates to a mere 20% representation for these communities.

The Democrat’s redistricting submission would restore District 2 and District 3 to their original names, prior to 2013. This change required no redistricting and would correct what the Republicans did a decade ago: qualitatively diluted voices weakened fair and equal representation for all, and removed balance in our land use zones.

After reviewing the census data from the addendum to the April meeting minutes, the Democrats determined the Republicans proposed compositions for Planning Zones I and II (see Figure 1). The Republican’s plan is to maintain the gerrymandering that DeCilio did in 2013 by packing Stratford’s residents of color into a single Planning Zone to suppress their individual and political power. Figure 2 is the Democrats proposed makeup for those same zones, which would restore Districts 1 and 2.

Land use boards and commissions matter! Planning and Zoning boards are established to to  represent the interests of the residents who elected them and those across the town. The Zoning Commission regulates land use and enforces the town’s regulations for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare by reviewing issues like density and preventing, for example, manufacturing developments in a neighborhood zoned residential. The Planning Commission is known as The Keeper of the 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development that focuses on everything from transit-oriented development to conservation, greenways to coastal resiliency, public spaces to affordable housing. The Planning Commission governs any changes to the POCD. The Board of Zoning Appeals provides oversight for residents regarding the Zoning Enforcement Officer and space for hearing regulation variance requests.

Both issues, the partisan gerrymandering of a high-value political opponent and the racial gerrymandering of high-value planning districts, are not new in Stratford. They are classic examples of Republican political gamesmanship and show that the Republicans are more interested in maintaining their power at all costs, including playing dirty, disenfranchising entire groups of Stratford voters, and ignoring the will of the people.

Republican Majority Voted on Incomplete Redistricting Maps Despite Lack of Stratford Data

Instead of a productive and collaborative meeting to work through the details of redistricting and getting all 10 of Stratford’s voting districts in compliance, DeCilio and Commission Chair Connor used the meeting to vent about their displeasure with a recent blog post that revealed the history of Republican gerrymandering in Stratford, resorting, and returning, to personal attacks. What is important to know is that Stratford is currently in compliance and no lines need to be redrawn.

The Democratic Commissioners came to the April meeting well-prepared, armed with meticulously crafted maps supported by thoughtful reasoning. Recognizing the possibility of minor adjustments based on the answers to questions raised at the previous meeting, they were open-minded and flexible.

It became immediately evident during the meeting that the Republicans had no intention of doing any work related to redistricting. What’s most disturbing is that they picked a fight with the Democrats at the start of the meeting to distract from their original intention of passing their map and only their map to the Town Council. When Councilwoman Rice suggested they move on from the personal attacks and do the work of redistricting, DeCilio refused to present his map claiming they are “under the gun.” If only Stratford completed this work back in 2022, as all other towns did, we would not find ourselves repeatedly in this position. 

Commission Chair Jim Connor had promised to provide the necessary information on data sources and formulas at this meeting. Despite this assurance, however, when the Commission agreed on the data source and formula, DeCilio blocked the Democrats from taking a brief recess to update their maps. It’s difficult to see how this could be considered fair or collaborative, especially given that DeCilio had a whole month to correct his own maps. The Chair should have adjourned the meeting at that point – there was consensus on the data, and his stated reason for this meeting. But why would he? What they were prepared with were political and personal grievances. Every single time the Democrats tried to steer the conversation back to process, they returned to gerrymandering. As Commission Chair, Connor abdicated his responsibility and allowed their Party Chair to own this disaster.

DeCilio eventually distributed paper copies of his maps, aptly likened to a “Coloring Book.” There was no data, and an entire district was missing. His map was immediately approved by a vote of 3:0 with the two Democrats abstaining; however, the meeting minutes incorrectly recorded the vote as 5:0. While requests to correct the minutes were refused, they were amended eight days later including the census blocks that make up each district. This is the recently uploaded information discussed earlier. None of this data was shared during the meeting and it was not part of the vote. If the Commission voted without data and only pictures, how can that vote be valid?

Holding Stratford Republicans Accountable

The purpose of having both parties collaborate on the voting redistricting process is to ensure fairness and impartiality. However, the Republicans, led by the Republican Registrar of Voters and Republican Party Chair Lou DeCilio, have a history of ignoring the Democrats on the Commission from the process entirely.

Stratford is one of the only municipalities in the state to have an Election District Revision Commission. All other municipalities require their Town Council or RTM to work together on their redistricting. This makes sense since the members of those bodies are elected by a majority of the residents in their respective districts. And surely, the process should not include party chairs of any affiliation.

It is time to hold the Stratford Republicans accountable for their actions. They have undermined our democracy through this process, and we should all hold them to task. Allowing them to get away with blatantly disrespecting the redistricting process will continue our town’s descent into one-party rule. This does not bode well for the people of Stratford or our town’s future. We must ensure that every voice is heard, and all votes are counted.

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