Yesterday, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation to make a one-time change in the decennial redistricting process by letting state lawmakers draw legislative districts first and then giving municipalities 30 days to draw their own voting precinct lines.

The House and Senate passed the bill on Sept. 23, several days after it was released by a House-Senate conference committee, which reconciled differing versions of “reprecincting” legislation.

Normally, cities and towns use data from the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years to update their precinct lines, which are then used by state leaders to redraw federal and state legislative districts. Because of the federal government’s pandemic-related delay in generating official Census numbers, cities and towns have been unable to finalize their reprecincting process.

Facing a November deadline to pass redistricting legislation affecting federal and state legislative districts, lawmakers sought to reverse the conventional order and have the state enact redistricting legislation before new municipal precinct maps are finalized.

The law delays the municipal reprecincting process until after the Legislature concludes redistricting of state and federal legislative districts, but does not require precincts to follow legislative lines. The Legislature will finalize the state and federal districts first, and then cities and towns have 30 days to complete their reprecincting process, as long as they finish by Dec. 15.

The House version of the bill would have required municipal precincts to be redrawn to follow the contours of new state legislative districts, which could have created significant disruption in cities and towns with district-based councils or school committees and in towns with representative town meetings. The bill signed into law (H. 4118) closely aligns with the Senate version.

Throughout the legislative process, the MMA made the case that legislation to shift the reprecincting process to after redistricting could add significant confusion and complexity to the electoral process in areas where legislative districts bisect precincts. This is particularly important in cities and towns that use precincts to elect city and town councillors, school committees, town meeting members, or other officials.

Legislative leaders are expected to release a draft map of new House and Senate districts in the coming weeks.

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