So I'm in Burlington Vermont which happens to be the smallest largest city of the 50 US states. So it shouldn't be surprizing that the University of Vermont and another college are in this town. Now the US Census requires that students be counted in their dorm room (or other student or off-campus housing) if that is where they normally reside and spend their sleeping hours. Burlington was ca. 42000 in 2010. I might guess it's about 47000 in 2020. Student population growing at a rate more than the city as a whole.

So it can't be just Burlington Vermont that has about 25% of their population as students.

Now normally the census and redistricting (or "reapportionment") is forced on state and local governments to make sure that emerging communities are represented in government with at least a hope of proportionality to their populations.

Now, one thing that local governments might do to student populations would be too slice the population up into multiple districts or wards, so that in each district the portion being this student community is nowhere near a majority. The political rationale is that we shouldn't encourage or even grant political power to people who most likely will not be hanging around in 5 years.

But isn't it the purpose of the redistricting to proportionately represent communities in government? And isn't slicing up a population so that they are disproportionately underrepresented in the legislative branch of government, wouldn't that be gerrymandering?

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So if students were the majority (or close to it) population in this Ward 8 (shown as orange in the map above), if they were to slice up Ward 8 into parts of Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6, wouldn't that be gerrymandering? If, instead of students, they were an emerging ethnic population, like Bosnian or Vietnamese? Would slicing up that ward be gerrymandering? What do other towns or small cities do with a large student population?

  • Good question. On the one hand, the students won't be around to reap the results of their vote for local or possibly even state-wide issues, but should have a voice in national issues. On the other, if being around to reap what you sow is a criteria for having representation, that would justify taking away voting rights from octogenarians (for example). I am genuinely curious to see how folks approach an answer here.
    – cpcodes
    Mar 5, 2020 at 21:23
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    On the second hand, if students are always a big chunk of the city's population, shouldn't today's students be allowed to vote for policies that will affect future students? Mar 6, 2020 at 11:18
  • this is the question we are dealing with. Mar 6, 2020 at 23:01
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    At my Alma Mater, Virginia Tech, the students represent 50% to 70% of the population of Blacksburg, VA. Not sure how they handle it but it would seem to be a very good place to look into since it is such a huge majority.
    – CramerTV
    Mar 9, 2020 at 16:42

1 Answer 1


I've never heard of local governments considering college students as a separate category for redistricting. Usually, ethnic and demographic populations are aggregated into their corresponding likelihood to vote for one of the two major parties. So, for example, students would fall into the aggregate category of likely Democrat. The map consultants go neighborhood by neighborhood and place red and blue markers on each neighborhood like a chess board. Then they use computer models to do the math to draw the lines to get the total advantage moved to their side of the board.

TLDR: Students are considered likely Democrats and treated accordingly.

  • first of all, you'll have to toss in a third color for "P" for the Vermont Progressive Party, the most successful third party in the United States. and now, there will be no more "R" and the P's have a majority in the new city council. since students are transitory, does that legitimize gerrymandering that would slice up a ward because you're afraid, as a ward, how they'll vote? Mar 5, 2020 at 22:51
  • @robertbristow-johnson: 1) The answer was written generally because I got the impression from the question that the specific case of Burlington, Vermont was an example of the general issue. 2) In general, the matter of gerrymandering is decided by the elected branches of government as SCOTUS recently ruled regarding federal court involvement. Although in some cases state courts have rejected some redistricting maps on the basis of being unconstitutional. Mar 5, 2020 at 23:02
  • well, the students are more likely to be Prog instead of Dem. But, there is this emerging sector of the city that count as persons by the census. If some other sector of the city that has a common interest was becoming a large minority of the city and had geographic proximity, isn't the purpose of redistricting to give each neighborhood a seat at the table? Mar 6, 2020 at 0:01
  • I would think that students would be categorized as likely non-voters given their low voting rates (plus many of them would vote absentee in their home district).
    – Don Hosek
    Mar 6, 2020 at 3:49
  • @DonaldHosek: Votes are modeled as vectors. Their low turnout is reflected in their per capita expected vote total. A number between 0 and 1. In other words, the expected magnitude of their vote vote. The body of the answer deals with direction. Mar 6, 2020 at 3:57

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