Legislative redistricting talks are underway around the state, and Albany County looks poised to retain its four representatives and two senators. But that doesn't mean the boundaries of those districts won't change to account for population shifts over the past 10 years.
During a work session Tuesday night, the county’s legislative delegation talked in preliminary terms about the redistricting process, which began in August with meetings of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee, which is leading the process.
Redistricting is a mandate of the Wyoming Constitution that occurs during the legislative session following each decennial federal census. The Constitution calls for at least two representatives per senator, guided by the census count.
The state now has 30 senators and 60 representatives, although those numbers might be up for debate before the process is through. Meanwhile, the committee has divided Wyoming into nine regions as a starting point for discussions.
Albany County was assigned its own region and preliminarily allotted four representatives and two senators, as it has now.
According to the census estimate, Albany was one of nine counties to gain residents, its population increasing by 767 people from 2010-20, an increase of 2.11%. The state as a whole gained 13,000 people, an increase of 2.3%.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said he didn’t think the estimate was very accurate given that the count happened during the spring of 2020, when the University of Wyoming was conducting all classes virtually and students — who are considered Albany County residents — were encouraged to head home.
“That doesn’t check out, but that’s where we’re at,” he said.
The ideal House district would include about 9,600 people with all districts required to be within 5% of that number. Priority will be given to keeping “communities of interest” together, such as counties, school districts and municipal areas, said Michael Swank, who works in the state Legislative Service Office.
Within the county, House Districts 13, 45 and 46 are outside the allowed deviation. HD 13, which is within Laramie city limits, is 14.3% smaller. HD 45 on Laramie’s west side is 11.5% smaller. HD 46 covering the southern part of the county is 6.75% larger.
“The lines within the district will need to change significantly. There’s no two ways about it,” said Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who represents HD 13.
In 2012, legislators pulled Rock River’s 240 voters into the sprawling HD 47, which runs from Albany County to west of Rock Springs, excluding the city of Rawlins in the middle. It’s the largest legislative district in the continental U.S. and even larger than several states. That district is almost 20% smaller than the ideal size.
Several people in the audience as well as several among the local delegation expressed a desire to return Rock River to a local district given its proximity to Laramie and inclusion in the Albany County School District.
“We need to keep Rock River here,” said County Commissioner Heber Richardson during the public comment period.
Senate District 9 consists mainly of the city of Laramie and is about 13% too small. Senate District 10 includes the rest of Albany County minus Laramie and Rock River. It’s in compliance, being about 4.4% larger than the ideal size of 19,228 people per Senate district.
Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who co-chairs the Elections Committee, said it's aiming to prepare a draft proposal by early December that will be ready for review before next year’s legislative session. The committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 6 and consider how its regions are working so far.
As the bill moves through the session, it will be up for amendment and debate numerous times, during which delegations will need to argue the priorities of their communities. Because Albany County’s population altogether is smaller than its ideal district sizes, local districts might end up drawing in neighboring populations.
The best laid plans could be subject to political maneuvering as well depending on how the new lines compare to the old lines.
“The last redistricting caused some re-election problems,” Rothfuss said.
Elsewhere in the state, rural areas such as Carbon and Sublette counties lost residents. Teton County and Laramie County grew the most, followed by Lincoln County, home to Star Valley.
The public can follow the redistricting process at https://www.co.albany.wy.us/477/Redistricting.