Did Senator Archambault gerrymander land he owns into his Senate District?Senator Stephen Archambault co-chaired the Redistricting Commission that made last minute changes to his district that may personally profit him.
Published on January 14, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
The last meeting of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Redistricting Commission was supposed to start at 5pm on Wednesday, but as 5:30 approached, the meeting still hadn’t started. Then, at the last minute, Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, the contractor hired by General Assembly leadership entered room 35 of the State House. His assistant, Ryan Taylor and a State House staffer hastily set up tripods and hung up the third and final set of House, Senate and Congressional maps. This was the first time these were seen by the public.
At the end of the meeting the commission voted to approve these maps, with barely a glance at the last minute changes that were made. The Senate and House maps were passed with only the Republican members of the commission voting against. Their reason: They, and the public, did not have time to sufficiently review the maps.
Representative Brian Newberry did note some oddities about the maps, however. On the Senate map, District 22, which previously had encompassed all of Smithfield and a small chunk of North Providence, had absorbed a significant section of Lincoln, Rhode Island to the east.
Let’s back up: To be in accordance with a United States Supreme Court decision, each Senate and House District must have approximately equal populations. Ideally, every Senate District would have 28,878 residents. For practicality, there is a buffer of sorts – each Senate district can have a population of plus or minus five percent.
District 22, on the new maps, is 3.51% over the 28,878 ideal, while District 17 is now 4.98% under this ideal. District 17 is currently represented by Thomas Paolino, a Republican. The difference in population between the two districts is 2,452 residents, which may the the widest population disparity between neighboring districts on the entire Senate map.
“As I recall there was some discussion that we had dealing with some components of a neighborhood along that border there and people expressed an interest in terms of being with [District] 22 in that regard,” said consultant Kimball Brace, when Representative Newberry asked him to explain the change.
“People from Lincoln?” asked Representative Newberry with an incredulous laugh.
“Um, yeah,” said Brace.
Previous maps submitted to the commission did not have this change. This was a last minute addition introduced and voted on quickly, without public input or comment.
The Senator who benefitted from this last minute change was Stephen Archambault, a Democrat who has represented District 22 and Smithfield since 2013.
Acting on a tip, UpriseRI searched the records in Lincoln for recent land sales and discovered that Senator Archambault recently purchased a significant plot of land Lincoln, and that this land is inside the area taken from Senate District 17 and incorporated into District 22.
Senator Archambault is one of the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Redistricting Commission. As such, he is in a good position to dictate changes in the maps to benefit himself both politically and personally. As was shown in a previous piece here on UpriseRI, the Redistricting Commission in Rhode Island was constructed to favor incumbents politically. Secret meetings between legislators and Election Data Services were held in the sub-basement of the Rhode Island State House where Senators and Representatives were allowed to make changes to their districts. Only a few legislators refused these meetings. UpriseRI was informed that no records were kept of these meetings after submitting an Access to public Records request.
It is impossible to know how incorporating a small section of Senate District 17 into Senate District 22 will benefit Archambault personally, but he has long been involved in the development of the area. Perhaps he wants to move into one of the many new, $800k homes being developed in the area, and wishes to keep his residence inside the Senate District he has “served” or the last decade.
UpriseRI reached out to Senators Archambault and Paolino, General Assembly leadership and members of the JCLS and we are awaiting comment.
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