SOUTH KINGSTOWN – As Rhode Island undergoes reapportioning and redistricting its voting districts once more to reflect the results of the new 2010 Census, state legislators are anxiously waiting to see what they may lose or gain.
As the Special Commission on Reapportionment met last Thursday at the South Kingstown High School during a preliminary public hearing on redistricting, local representatives and senators discovered there will be some changes in Washington County.
Washington County has the largest percentage increase in its population in the state, according to Kimball Brace of the Election Data Services, the company the state has contracted to study redistricting in the state. In Washington County, the population increased by 3,433 or 2.78 percent from 2000 to 2010 with a total population of 126,979. However, Providence County has the largest raw number increase with a total population increase of 5,065 people in the last decade. This reflects 0.81 percent increase for Providence.
Across the state, the population increased by 4,248 in the last decade, a percentage increase of 0.41 percent.
Brace stated there was much variety occurring across the state and there is no better place that reflects that variety than Washington County. Between 2000 and 2010, Narragansett lost 493 people, a 3.11 decrease in its population. Across Westerly, the population decreased by 179 or 0.79 percent. Charlestown only lost 32 people, a 0.41 percent decrease. South Kingstown, on the other hand, saw a dramatic increase of 8.87 percent in its population with 2,718 people moving to the town. North Kingstown gained 160 or 0.60 percent.
Although Washington County saw a large percentage increase, the coastal areas are noted for its significant 20 percent loss, which some legislators speculate is a result of the majority of summer homeowners who may not have been in Rhode Island at the time the 2010 Census was given in April.
“It’s a function of how many housing units are there. The loss of actual number of people is down in Newport, Middletown, and Narragansett along the bay,” Brace said to the commissioners of local legislators.
“I’m concerned about the coastal area of the state. My concern is that a lot of people that live in those houses use them as summer houses, but they’ve always done that. It’s almost like the Census did a bad job,” Rep. Joseph Trillo (Dist. 24, Warwick) said. “The Census was done in April so if people are not here, the houses are vacant. It is not making logical sense that we lost 20 percent all along the coastal state.”
South Kingstown Town Clerk Dale Holberton stated that much of the population along the south shore is seasonal.
“For those that aren’t seasonal, many are snowbirds and go away in the winter and may not have been there during the Census. Some of the neighborhoods are older and children may have left home so that could be a population decrease,” Holberton said.
With the population changes comes the inevitable changing of the district lines, which will affect how many possible votes local politicians can receive in the next election and how many people they actually represent. The ideal House district size is 14,034 people. The ideal Senate district size is 27,699. Districts that have gained population will have to give up geography to districts that have lost population.
For more information, pick up a copy of today's The Narragansett Times.