Over the objections of Trumbull Town Council democrats and a dozen public speakers, the council gave Trumbull four voting districts Monday night.
Opponents of the change from seven districts fear it will now lead to voter confusion, longer voting lines, insufficient parking at polling places and possibly a 17-4 majority.
The most immediate, tangible change is that for election events, there will be four polling places with two check-in lines instead of one per site. There will be a super district with six Town Council representatives, and three smaller ones with five representatives each.
The change's effect will be seen this year with primaries and the presidential election in November.
A new plan was needed to make Trumbull compliant with the "one man, one vote" law and to line up with the state legislature's redrawn district map.
But the two democrats on the Redistricting Committee (which also included three republicans) had proposed a seven-district plan that moved fewer voters and also met the law.
The four-district plan came from the three GOP members and it was recommended 3-2 along party lines.
Republican Registrar Bill Holden, who also chaired the latest Redisricting Committee and the one in 1984, laid out numerous reasons for approval, such as cost savings and fewer polling places. A four-district model was used when Trumbull was run under the Representative Town Meeting model. It was changed to seven 28 years ago, he said.
The Town Council's 12-8 approval (most republicans in favor) came almost along party lines.
It followed a two-hour public hearing in Town Hall in which speaker after speaker accused GOP members of the council of miniminizing minority representation and of a "power grab."
Other concerns were:
- More candidates to meet and choose from during municipal elections between Board of Education and Council candidates -- as many as 10;
- In the case of a supermajority, the minority party members will have to attend more Council committee meetings;
- Voters will get discouraged in case of a supermajority because they won't feel represented;
- The council could lose its intimate feel with the voters with larger districts;
- It could become harder to attract candidates to run for Town Council under a supermajority.
The council democrats moved to return the four-district plan to the Redistricting Committee and to consider the seven-district plan, both of which were rejected mainly along party lines.
In the final vote, Republican Councilman David Pia broke with his GOP colleagues. "I really wanted to support the four-district plan," he said, adding that he saw "nothing ... that sold me."
He noted that 20,000 Trumbull residents would likely vote in the presidential election, based on numbers from the previous presidential election. He was also concerned about a possible 17-4 supermajority and long voting lines.
Finally, he defended his republican status, citing many times he has sided with Council democrats.
"I have solid republican fiscally conservative values," he said, later adding, "I don't want to see anybody 4 to 17."
Both sides also accused each other gerrymandering.
Comments and Debate
After Holden's opening remarks, Councilwoman Vicki Tesoro, who served on the Redistricting Committee, said the seven-district proposal is "less likely to be subject to a referendum or a legal challenge" and "preserves much more thoroughly the current districts."
"There is no outcry from our citizens for a major restructuring," she said.
The hearing began at 10 p.m. The League of Women Voters opened with a statement:
"The plan before you calls for a reduction in voting districts from seven to four, which will effectively double the number of voters in at least one district, dislocate 18,000 voters and nearly double the size of each Council District ... If this plan passes we urge the town to hire officers to help with parking, additional checkers to try to move voters into each polling place faster, and to purchase and install additional privacy booths in order to mitigate the impact of increased numbers at each poll," it stated.
The LWV urged additional funding to "handle all of the additional calls that are certain to be generated from voters. We believe the current Registrar's office staff would not be able to handle the increased calls and handle their usualy election-day duties."
A double-sided ballot will also complicate matters, the league stated.
Jon Greene said eight to 10 candidates would difficult to process in municipal election years.
"Today I have to learn four people. We're now going to get eight to 10 people," he said. "If you actually believe in an educated electorate, I believe you should consider voting this down."
According to Scott Wich, "I don't need five or six representatives representing me. Sometimes more is not better. In this case, more can actually be less to a voter."
"This resolution will define this council's relationship with the people that you represent," he added.
Cindy Katske asked why republicans did not question the fou-district model at a Council committee meeting.
"Please talk about these plans before you vote," she said.
Mark Altieri, a former Town Councilman, said no one benefits from a supermajority.
Cindy Penkoff, a republican alternate on the Board of Finance, argued, "I believe this entire Council represents me," rather than its individual members.
"The four-district model is not new to Trumbull. I trust my Town Council to do what is appropriate for Trumbull," she said.
Town Councilman Gregg Basbagill, a Trumbull High School Social Studies Teacher and civics advisor, said he couldn't look at his students "with a straight face" if the council approved the plan.
Republican Tony Scinto, who served on the Redistricting Committee, said the plan allows him to vote for more people. He added that he was "attacked" over his views on redistricting.
Just before the vote, Tesoro argued that the minority's plans were not considered in the committee's deliberations. "We came in with two plans to open the conversation, a conversation that never happened," she said.
Councilwoman Martha Mark, a democrat, concluded, "I can't imagine what it's like to be one of four [in the minority]. One day it will be the republicans."
John DelVecchio Jr., a demcratic councilman, added that, "I thought we did our best work" with a larger minority.