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Stratford Dems say redistricting plan targets Town Council member

Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
A redrawing of voting districts could force Kaitlyn Shake (left), a Democratic Town Council member, to lose the seat she holds in District 2.

Stratford’s Republican-controlled Election District Revision Committee is considering a plan that would change the town’s electoral district map. Members of the Democratic Town Committee say the GOP is not being transparent about the proposed changes.

The redrawing of voting districts could force Kaitlyn Shake, a Democratic Town Council member, to lose the seat she holds in District 2. Shake has been in office since 2019 when she beat a Republican incumbent and fended off a challenge in 2021.

Shake said she has called for answers regarding the redistricting plan, all to no avail.

“They provided no rationale as to the necessity of me needing to move into another district,” Shake said.

The Election District Revision Committee said it changes the districts every 10 years to account for updated census figures. Democrats said they were given U.S. Census block data in addition to a small map.

Under the proposal, Shake's district is more or less unchanged, except for a square-shaped chunk bordering another district. That chunk which includes Shake’s house would be a part of the 7th District.

If the plan is passed, Shake would be forced to run as a challenger in the 7th District, which is currently represented by a Republican.

Shake said the new boundaries were seemingly drawn to impact her.

“With this new proposed redistricting map, the Republican plan goes up Allendale and then takes a right down my street, Charlton and goes all the way down about 10 houses, and then wraps around my house,” Shake said. “So my side of the street is now in District 7, and my neighbor across the street is still District 2."

The prospect of Shake losing her seat was not immediately apparent, according to Kathleen Callahan, chair of the Democratic Town Committee. Callahan said she found out Shake could lose her seat by reverse engineering the election revision committee’s maps using the census block data and entered them into an open source database to recreate the proposal.

Callahan said there’s a reason why she believes Shake is seemingly being targeted.

“They don't want her there. And so she's lost her incumbency, she has to run as a non-incumbent against their only incumbent where they're going to concentrate all their efforts where they think they have a solid win,” Callahan said.

Republicans have dismissed those claims. The town has two Registrar of Voters, one of them is Lou DeCillio, who is chair of the Republican Town Committee. DeCillio said the proposal is legal and sound using census data.

He denied the changes were made to hurt Shake.

“Listen, hundreds, if not thousands, of people may have been moved from one to another, only because of the fact that when you move one line, it creates a domino effect. And that's how it works,” DeCillio said.

DeCillio was the Registrar of Voters back in 2003, when the town’s redistricting efforts made national headlines over the town’s splitting of an apartment complex into two districts. DeCillio’s current argument the redistricting plan is only following census data is broadly similar to arguments he made 20 years ago.

Callahan argued the 2013 redistricting didn’t change boundaries in District 2. The 2010 census showed a population of 51,384 compared to the 2000 census number of 49,976, which is a more than 2% increase. Stratford’s population is now at 52,355, according to the 2020 census, a 1.9% increase.

Callahan said legally, there isn’t much the Democrats can do.

“Unfortunately, partisan or political gerrymandering like that in Councilwoman Shake's situation, is not protected nor advised by various counsel we sought,” Callahan said.

The Democratic Town Committee has also raised concerns about racial gerrymandering under the plan. The proposal would also continue to harm people of color, according to Callahan.

She said people of color have already suffered from previous redistricting efforts in Stratford a decade ago. Town Republicans have denied those claims.

Stratford is nearly 60%white and much of the town’s racial minority population lives primarily in the center and southern part of town. Those communities were impacted by a 2013 redistricting plan which Callahan said diluted their voting power.

She said the changes also impacted the makeup of the planning boards, which include the voting districts, and legal action regarding possible racial gerrymandering from that time remains on the table.

Voters in town feel disillusioned, according to Kim Rice, a Town Council member who represents the town’s 4th District.

“Nothing seems to change, the voters show up and they say what they feel and they need help. And more often than not, their concerns are dismissed, Rice said.

Despite their opposition, Democrats have resigned themselves to the distinct possibility the redistricting plan will almost assuredly be passed by the Republican-controlled Town Council.

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