Outdated voting precincts may get fix

The City of Boston may look at redrawing its outdated voting precincts for the first time in 70 years, city officials told the Gazette last week. But it is unclear if the city will come up with a new plan in time for a June 15 deadline, despite pressure from local officials.

Voting precincts are fixed political boundaries used, along with larger wards, to define electoral districts. At election time, there is one polling place per precinct.

Precincts are supposed to have equal populations so that voters have short wait-times at the polls, and so municipalities don’t waste resources managing polling in very small or very large precincts.

Most Massachusetts cities and towns are required to redraw their voting precincts every 10 years. A state law passed in the 1920s made what officials refer to as “precinct equalization” voluntary for Boston.

If it moves forward, the process could include the redrawing of JP precinct lines. In the JP parts of wards 11 and 19, the two wards that cover most of the neighborhood, some precincts have as many as 1,720 registered voters and some as few as 870.

City of Boston Election Commissioner Gerry Cuddyer told the Gazette the city is taking a serious look at re-precincting this year, but she could not say for certain if it would happen.

“We are conducting a review of the legal implications before we move forward,” Kuddyer told the Gazette. She declined to elaborate on the record about what legal concerns the city has about the process.

Population changes since Boston last redrew its precinct lines in 1941 mean the cities precincts are now severely out of whack—a cause for concern among voter advocates, including the non-profit MassVote.

“In Boston today, some precincts have too many people, causing long lines and long waits to vote…[meaning] some voters give up and don’t vote. Some precincts have too few people, wasting taxpayer money,” MassVote said in an e-mail last month urging supporters to lobby the city to redraw the lines.

According to MassVote, Boston could save over $2 million in the next 10 years if it comes up with a plan by the June 15 state deadline—a date meant to settle the election map before city and state electoral districts are redrawn later this year.

Re-precincting would be done based on the census count of the entire population—including people under 18, John Donovan from the city Election Department told the Gazette. The city has not yet attempted to analyze its precinct populations, he said.

MassVote Policy Director Cheryl Crawford told the Gazette she could think of no reason the city would not move on redrawing its precincts, “There is no benefit. It is just a matter of people being to stubborn to change,” she said.

At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo and local District 6 City Councilor Matt O’Malley, both JP residents, told the Gazette they thinks re-precincting should happen.

“We need to do all we can to allow voters the most convenient voting experience possible,” Arroyo said.

“It seems to not make much sense if you’ve got some precincts with 2,000 voters and some with 200,” O’Malley said.

City Councilor Mike Ross, who represents part of JP, last year filed a home-rule petition with the state that would make re-precincting mandatory in Boston every 10 years, but the legislature took no action.

He re-filed that legislation this year, but the state has taken no action, and there is no chance at this point that it would be enacted in time for the June 15 deadline.

“I am committed…I filed it to get it passed, or at least to get a hearing,” Ross told the Gazette. “When you see five police officers and five sets of election officials [at a small precinct], that is not an equitable distribution of election resources.”

City Councilor Bill Linehan, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on the Census and Redistricting, told the Gazette that if the city does not move forward with re-precincting by June 15, he would support legislation allowing Boston “to do it at another time, prior to the next census.”

Putting the process off could be complicated, though, because even if the new precincts are drawn to line up with City Council districts, state and federal legislative districts may then have to be redrawn.

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