First Census Data Shows Small Changes

by Doug McClure

MONTPELIER – The first data from the 2020 U.S. Census have arrived, and the State of Vermont has provided insight into the broadest range of information.

The town-by-town counts show that most of the Gazette towns had small population changes.

Hardwick’s population decreased by 90 residents, a 3% drop from 2010, and Craftsbury gained 137, an 11% increase. Greensboro’s population increased by 49, or 6.4%. Calais also showed a gain of 54, or 3.4%. At the lower end of the scale, Wolcott showed a loss of 6 residents.

Other Northeast Kingdom towns saw significant and substantial losses of population. Lyndon lost 490 residents and St. Johnsbury 239. On the western side of the state, towns around Burlington and north showed far more substantial population gains.

The wider implication of these numbers is that, under Vermont law, at a certain level the population increase or decrease might affect how the General Assembly is allocated. The state said in its release that it redraws its legislative districts after the census “to ensure that the populations of each district have relatively equal representation in both chambers of the State House.” Vermont uses two different formulas for an ideal distribution, one for the Senate and one for the House. 

The state noted that “Generally speaking if a district has a percentage deviation greater than 10% over or under ideal, legal precedent would suggest that the district would likely exceed what is constitutionally acceptable.”

Based on the current numbers, the state calculated that the Essex-Orleans Senate district’s population was 10.2% less than ideal, and the Caledonia District 8.6% lower. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Chittenden was 16% more populous than was ideal for its level of representation.

The House side reflects a similar pattern. Essex-Caledonia was 14.3% less populated than ideal and Caledonia-4, 6% less. While all but one other Northeast Kingdom district stayed closed to “ideal,” many around and north of Chittenden showed significant population gains, indicating a representation level that the state would consider less than ideal. 

If, as many analysts expect, the re-alignment does take place, the end result could be further erosion of the Northeast Kingdom’s influence in the General Assembly as its population continues to decrease.