Redistribution of Constituencies Effort Reshaping Fourth Congressional District


BOSTON – Some local polling stations could be split into two state legislative districts as part of the ongoing 10-year redistribution effort, a senior lawmaker said on Monday in a hearing in which voters called for remodel the fourth congressional district.

As the legislature pushes forward a plan to change the traditional process of redistributing political boundaries, the co-chair of the redistricting committee, Senator William Brownsberger, said there could be instances in which particular towns or neighborhoods would be affected and pledged that lawmakers would make decisions “as transparently as possible.”

“We are not and will not tie the hands of municipalities on how they choose to proceed with their new constituency,” Brownsberger said. “The worst case scenario is that there will be headaches for voters and office headaches in some cities where yes, one constituency could be split into two legislative constituencies. It could happen, but we will work with you, we will work with all the clerks and hopefully a little iteration, a little back and forth, and we can avoid as many problems as possible. “

The House and Senate have both approved legislation (H 3863 / S 2489) that would require municipalities to create their constituencies and constituencies after the Legislative Assembly enacts its bill dividing the state into districts. of Congress, Legislative Council and Governor’s Council, reversing the order deployed in past cycles.

Lawmakers have yet to advance a final version of the proposal – which has drawn heavy criticism from the Massachusetts Municipal Association and Secretary of State William Galvin – to Governor Charlie Baker.

Wellesley City Clerk KC Kato told the Brownsberger panel that reversing the process could create additional hurdles for election administrators and voters.

“We know our community, the natural boundaries, the new polling stations and other local nuances,” Kato said, urging lawmakers to drop the pressure. “If you start with the old constituencies, we know they are not the right size and could result in the division of individual constituencies into two legislative constituencies, which would create problems with electoral operations and confusion among voters. “

If lawmakers chose to divide an existing city or constituency between multiple legislative districts in the state, it would create sub-speakers and local officials would have to come up with different ballots for those races.

Several Massachusetts communities span multiple districts of the State House or State Senate, but in almost all of these cases they are divided along constituencies or local constituencies. According to Galvin’s office, only one Massachusetts ward is subdivided into two state legislative districts: in Boston, Ward 5 of Ward 2 is part of the Ninth Suffolk House ward, while Ward 5 Precinct 2A is in Ward Seventh Suffolk House.

Bellingham, Sudbury, Cambridge among cities with sub-speakers

Eight other municipalities – Palmer, Bellingham, Winchendon, Fall River, Raynham, Cambridge, Sudbury and Andover – have constituencies for congressional districts, Galvin’s office said.

In previous cycles, towns and villages first drew up their constituencies, which often served as building blocks for the districts that the legislature decides.

Some lawmakers, including Redistribution Committee co-chair Mike Moran’s representative, have suggested reversing that order – a change that would align Massachusetts with the order of operations in most other states – for years.

Their efforts have gained new strength as a result of the pandemic. The US Census Bureau does not expect to provide complete population data until the end of September, with some local information available by mid-August, which Brownsberger said would not leave enough time in the frame. from the traditional process to the legislature to complete its work before the end. -October deadline.

“There is no feasible way for the legislative process to wait for the local renewal process this year,” he said. “We are going to have to move forward. We will move forward along with the local retaliation process, but we will do so as transparently as possible.”

Supporters for the change, who include several voting rights advocates with the Drawing Democracy Coalition, say it would help lawmakers overcome challenges fueled by the pandemic while building political power in communities of color.

Brownsberger and Moran’s panel is halfway through a series of hearings to receive public testimony from voters in the state’s nine congressional districts on the redistribution. Massachusetts will retain all nine districts after the 2020 census, although the map will need to be updated to reflect changes in population over the past decade.

Concerns of the Fourth Congressional District

The Fourth Congressional District, the subject of Monday’s hearing, covers a wide geographic and socio-economic range, from Fall River and Freetown northward to MetroWest communities and several affluent suburban enclaves such as Brookline and Wellesley. Representative Carol Doherty, a Democrat from Taunton, called it a “long, winding, fun-shaped neighborhood.”

Several speakers who testified on Monday, including Doherty, urged the constituency committee to keep their communities in the Fourth Congressional District so they can continue to be represented by first-term Congressman Jake Auchincloss.

“Whatever you do, at the end of the day, we’d love to keep his hometown (Newton) in our district,” Doherty said.

One of the most important questions the committee will need to answer is how to handle Fall River.

The most recent data from the American Community Survey considers Fall River and its population of over 89,000 as the largest city in the district, while estimates produced by the UMass Donahue Institute indicate Fall River as the second largest city. of the district behind Newton.

The northwestern portion of Fall River is in the Fourth Congressional District represented by Auchincloss, while the remainder is in the Ninth Congressional District represented by Congressman William Keating.

For Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan, that’s more or less how the card should stay.

“Fall River needs a lot of help, and we think having two members of Congress to help us in Washington is not a negative thing,” Coogan told the committee, noting that he had formed an “excellent relationship “with Auchincloss. “When I met Jake during the campaign I ended up approving him because I thought he was a good person. He’s a straight shooter, and we just don’t want to lose him. we could stay with the district as configured now, that would help us tremendously. “

Several other residents and advocates have instead called on lawmakers to completely relocate Fall River to the Ninth Congressional District, saying residents feel more aligned with neighboring New Bedford than with the northernmost communities of the Fourth District.

“Our conversations with the citizens of Fall River tell us that this division creates confusion, not only on the part of voters but also a spread of accountability of representatives,” said Sophie Kripp, activist for the Coalition for Social Justice. . “It often flies in the face of accountability, something that is so important in democracy, especially for a large population of marginalized communities so present in Fall River.”

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