Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Michael Moran
The Honorable William Brownsberger
The Honorable Daniel Ryan
The Honorable Barry Finegold
The Honorable Shawn Dooley
The Honorable Ryan Fattman
Joint Committee of Conference on Reprecincting Legislation
State House, Boston
Dear Chair Moran, Chair Brownsberger and Distinguished Members of the Committee,
On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, we are writing to respectfully and urgently ask you to protect municipal decision-making on local precinct lines, as you work to reconcile the provisions of H. 3863 and S. 2489.
H. 3863 would require the creation of new federal and state legislative districts before municipalities are able to redraw their local precincts using 2020 U.S. Census numbers, and then require cities and towns to shape their precincts based on the new state and federal legislative districts. This reversal of a successful and time-tested process could lead to unintended consequences and disruption to local governance, charters, and elections in many cities and towns across the state. As you know, Secretary of State William Galvin and the Massachusetts City Clerks Association have voiced these same concerns regarding the legislation.
S. 2489 would take a different approach by simply delaying the municipal reprecincting process until after the Legislature concludes redistricting of state and federal legislative districts, eschewing a mandate that municipal precincts follow the contours of redrawn legislative boundaries. While this approach is appreciated by municipal officials, especially those in cities and towns that use precincts to elect city and town councilors, school committees, town meeting members, and other officials, we remain concerned that the result could add significant confusion and complexity to the electoral process in those areas where legislative districts bisect precincts.
Reprecincting occurs every 10 years, as communities use the decennial federal census numbers to rebalance precinct lines. Under current state law, cities and towns update their precinct lines first, and then state lawmakers use municipally drawn precincts as the building blocks for the state’s redistricting process. As noted above, forcing communities to shape their precincts around new state-set boundaries would lead to significant problems for communities with multiple precincts, especially those with Representative Town Meeting, as well as those localities that elect local officials in districts based on wards and precincts.
Further, cities and towns are in the best position to take into account neighborhoods and racial and ethnic communities of interest when they draw precincts lines. They are acutely aware of new or proposed developments as well as the geographic limits that can form boundaries between neighborhoods. In addition, municipalities must hold at least one local public hearing as part of the process, ensuring adequate local public input. If the state draws districts first, it could unknowingly split neighborhoods and communities of interest who wish to be connected and represented in their local government and municipal elections. Of particular concern is the potential for state-set boundaries that are incompatible with local governance structures in towns with Representative Town Meeting or in municipalities that elect officials by districts or wards, creating major conflicts with home rule charters and throwing municipal bodies out of balance. Legislative district lines could unknowingly divide communities of interest or create sections that are too large or small to match the required number of precincts or districts, leading to disarray. This is why cities and towns must go first in the process, or at the very least, the process needs to be set in parallel tracks.
While some communities might be in a situation to address this problem by dividing precincts into subprecincts, this would create another set of cascading complications for voters, such as different polling places and different boundaries for municipal and state elections. New training would be required so that poll workers could provide voters with the appropriate ballots in new subprecincts, new voting lists would be necessary, and signature collection by candidates would be more challenging. Secretary Galvin has warned that any of the above could leave cities and towns vulnerable to challenges by their voters as well as challenges under the Voting Rights Act.
We recognize that the delay in census numbers is creating a problem for both state and local officials, and we are very sensitive to the very real time constraints in the state redistricting process. We believe the best solution is to engage in a parallel process, with all levels working together. The Secretary of State’s Elections Division is already working to provide technical support to cities and towns in advance of the official census numbers, which are due by September 30. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting could start drafting their districts using “legacy files,” which have just been released by the Census Bureau. If the Committee believes that it will need to split a city or town, the Elections Division can work with that municipality to get their local precincts established before that data is sent to the Local Elections District Review Commission. The Elections Division believes that the Local Elections District Review Commission will be able to approve all precincts and submit the data to the committee prior to the committee releasing its draft maps for public comment. While more cumbersome, this approach would protect against conflicts with local governance requirements and ensure that communities of interest have a voice in both the local and state process.
Again, we respectfully and urgently ask that you preserve local control over the reprecincting process, so that cities and towns can ensure a workable result that protects hometown self-governance. Thank you for your consideration and attention to this important issue for the Commonwealth and its cities, towns and voters.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO