Press Release: 2021-06-11
MMA urges House to protect local control of municipal reprecincting process
MMA urges House to protect local control of municipal reprecincting process:
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, and ask you to oppose H. 3863, An Act Relative to Reprecincting, which will be before the House for debate tomorrow.
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 complete reversal of the process would 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 has voiced these same concerns regarding the legislation.
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. 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.
While some communities might be in a situation to address this problem by subdividing precincts into sub-precincts, 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 sub-precincts, 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 real problem for 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 can start drafting their districts using “legacy files,” which should be available in mid-August. 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 their draft maps for public comment. While more complicated, 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.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO