Representatives will be asked to vote Thursday on a redistricting order-of-operations swap opposed by the state's chief elections officer and by the statewide organization representing cities and towns, which warned the change "would lead to unintended consequences and disruption to local governance."
The Massachusetts Municipal Association joined Secretary of State William Galvin in opposition to legislation on the House's agenda (H 3863) that would allow the Legislature to redraw state and federal districts before local governments update their voting precincts, reversing the traditional order after the pandemic disrupted delivery of U.S. Census population data.
"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," MMA Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith wrote in a public letter to lawmakers. "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."
The House has made a rapid push to amend the decennial redistricting and reprecincting timeline, granting initial approval to the bill on Wednesday just two days after the Election Laws Committee heard testimony. A coalition of election reform advocates supports the change, arguing that using Census tract and block data rather than local precincts will allow the Redistricting Committee to divide Massachusetts into more equal and cohesive districts.
Existing law sets a deadline of June 15 for cities and towns to redraw their local precinct boundaries, but that date falls more than three months before the U.S. Census Bureau expects to deliver all local population data. In addition to the redistricting push, the House also plans to vote Thursday on a policy-packed budget bill (H 3862) that creates a successor MBTA board and on an amendment that would permanently enshrine mail-in voting and early voting before state primaries.
The Republican State Committee on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution opposing a permanent universal mail-in voting system, so the Democratic supermajority is likely to face dissent from Republican lawmakers during Thursday's session.