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RI POLITICS

Groups call for ‘fair and transparent’ redistricting process in R.I.

Coalition calls for remote participation, Spanish interpretation, and an end to “prison gerrymandering.”

The Rhode Island State House.
The Rhode Island State House.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — As the state Special Commission on Reapportionment prepares to meet for the first time on Thursday, 23 community groups are calling for the commission to follow steps to ensure a “fair and transparent” redistricting process.

The commission will draft new General Assembly and congressional districts, using the latest census figures to make recommendations to the full Assembly by Jan. 15.

In a letter released Wednesday, the coalition called for the commission to allow the public to participate remotely because of the pandemic, and to provide simultaneous interpretation in Spanish.

Members of the public should be allowed to submit their own maps using the data used by the commission, the coalition said, and the commission should rank the criteria it uses to draw maps while releasing a written explanation accompanying any maps it releases.

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The coalition also called for ending the practice of “prison gerrymandering” by assigning those held at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston to their home districts.

“Rhode Islanders deserve a fair and accountable redistricting process in which they can meaningfully participate,” said John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “This process will impact our elections and the people’s voting power for the next decade. The Reapportionment Commission must take all necessary steps to make sure the new district maps are drawn in a fair and transparent process the public can easily understand.”

“Tools to engage people in the process of submitting their own maps to the Commission is necessary,” said Jane Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island. Transparency is most important and community interests are prioritized. Follow the lead of the people.”

The coalition said a fair redistricting process would be bipartisan and transparent, and it would include multiple chances for public engagement before and after proposed maps are drawn.

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“A fair process would mean elected officials would not be allowed to cherry-pick their voters and would instead give voters the power to choose their leaders, requiring the politicians to earn every vote in every corner of the state,” the groups said.

The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Clean Water Action Rhode Island, the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, the NAACP Providence branch, the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus, the Rhode Island Latino PAC, the Rhode Island Working Families Party, and The Womxn Project.

The new census data show Rhode Island’s population grew by 4.3 percent over the past decade, rising to 1,097,379. Meanwhile, the percentage of residents identifying as white dropped by 8.6 percent, going from 81.4 percent in 2010 to 71.3 percent in 2020.

Rhode Island’s growth stemmed in part from a rapid increase in non-white populations, including a nearly 40 percent increase in the state’s Latino or Hispanic population. The new census figures also show that cities and towns in the northern part of the state are growing faster than those in the south, reversing a trend seen in the previous decade.

The Special Commission on Reapportionment has scheduled its first meeting for 4 p.m. Thursday in Room 313 of the State House.

During the organizational meeting, the 18-member commission is expected to elect Representative Robert D. Phillips, a Woonsocket Democrat, and Senator Stephen R. Archambault, a Smithfield Democrat, as cochairs.

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The commission will hear from Kimball W. Brace, president of Election Data Service Inc., which has been Rhode Island’s redistricting consultant since 1983. Public comment will be taken.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.