The House is expected to vote tomorrow on a bill that 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.

The MMA Board of Directors voted unanimously yesterday to oppose the bill (H. 3863).

Every 10 years, communities use official census numbers — which usually come in April, but will be delayed four to five months this year — 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.

In a letter today to House members, the MMA stated, “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. … In addition, municipalities must hold at least one local public hearing as part of the process, ensuring adequate local public input.

“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.”

If the Legislature uses census blocks to create districts and the municipality is required to use those districts to form precincts, it could result in a municipality having different polling places and different district names for different elections. Poll workers would have to be sure to provide voters with appropriate ballots for their sub-precinct, resulting in new training requirements, a new process for checking in, and new voting lists. Additionally, candidates may be unclear where to get signatures in their districts, as districts would be different for state election purposes versus local election purposes.

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 Sept. 30. The Legislature’s Committee on Redistricting can start drawing its districts using “legacy files,” which should be available in mid-August. If the committee believes it will need to split a city or town, the Elections Division can work with that municipality to get local precincts established before that data is sent to the Local Elections District Review Commission.

The Elections Division has said that it believes the Local Elections District Review Commission would be able to approve all precincts and submit the data to the Committee on Redistricting prior to the committee releasing its draft maps for public comment.

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