Bill Would Give Public Comment Time for New MA Voting District Maps
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
BOSTON -- Every ten years, after the Census, local municipalities usually draw new precinct boundaries before state lawmakers draw new voting districts, but a bill passed by both the Massachusetts House and Senate could change that.
Block-by-block Census data needed for redistricting and what's known as "reprecincting" was supposed to be available in April.
Beth Huang, executive director of the nonprofit Massachusetts Voter Table, which is part of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, said the pandemic and the former administration's politicization of the Census have delayed the data until Sep. 30.
That leaves just over a month to get the new maps ready, which Huang pointed out needs to happen at least a year before the next Election Day.
"State representatives need to live in the districts to which they're elected for a full year before the election," Huang explained. "That means that our constitutional deadline for redrawing districts is November 8th."
She added if reprecincting needs to happen before redistricting, there is no chance of having enough time to get residents' input on the new maps. How maps are drawn can affect communities' abilities to build voting coalitions to hold their officials accountable on issues that matter most to them.
To reduce historical racial gerrymandering, the Voting Rights Act includes a provision which requires states to have majority-minority districts; that is, districts where a majority of voters represent a minority racial or linguistic community.
Huang noted sometimes, cities draw precincts of vastly different sizes, which can make redistricting at the state level more difficult.
"If you have these different-sized building blocks, these different-sized precincts, and Voting Rights Act considerations at the same time, there are constraints on two different sides," Huang remarked.
She added efforts are always underway to increase public participation, and make political representation in the Commonwealth more equitable. She thinks Gov. Baker should sign the bill into law, emphasizing the importance of a transparent process.
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