Mass. Lawmakers Will Unveil New State Districts

On Beacon Hill Tuesday, the Legislature's Committee on Redistricting will present its first draft of newly redrawn legislative districts that will be in place until 2022. Not yet ready is the much-anticipated redrawn congressional map, as that task is further complicated by the need to eliminate one of Massachusetts’ 10 districts.

WBUR's Steve Brown has been closely monitoring the redistricting process and brings us up to date.

CLICK FOR INTERACTIVE MAP: Mass. congressional district population changes by race, 2000 - 2010.
CLICK FOR INTERACTIVE MAP: Mass. congressional district population changes by race, 2000 - 2010.

By all accounts, what the committee is doing at this point is unprecedented. Why is that?

You have to go back 10 years to the train wreck that was redistricting in 2001. Minority groups successfully sued the state over the fact the districts did not reflect the rise in minority population. That process ended with then-Speaker Thomas Finneran pleading guilty to perjury charges. The Legislature took a lot of lumps for what went on then. All the work was done behind closed doors. For instance, the maps were unveiled on a Thursday and debated by the full House on Monday — not a lot of time to actually see how the 160 House districts were redrawn.

Here's how it's different this year: On Tuesday, the committee will present the first draft maps. The public will be able to look at those maps online all this week, and submit input to the committee. Probably early next week, the committee, after hearing from the public, will vote to approve the districts, and then it's on to the full Legislature to approve the new districts.

This falls in line with what the committee has been doing all year?

It does. This time, the Legislature has been trying extra hard — at least on the surface — to be very open about the process. They have a huge section of their website dedicated to redistricting, they publicized the dozen or so hearings they had back in the spring all around the state. If you missed a hearing, you could go to the website and watch a video of it. They actively sought input from the very groups and constituencies that sued them 10 years ago, asking them to submit maps and make suggestions. And so far, those groups have given the Legislature high marks for their openness. Of course, that could change once the map comes out Tuesday.

There are a number of groups advocating for increased minority representation in the Legislature. What are they looking to gain in this process?

Specifically, they want to see the addition of at least six more "majority-minority" House districts and one more majority-minority Senate district. Currently, there are only 10 of those districts on the House side, and two in the Senate. Minority advocates say it's possible to add such a House district in Lowell, Lawrence, Springfield, Brockton, Randolph, Worcester and Boston. The additional Senate district would be in Boston.

A few weeks back, the House chairman of the redistricting committee said there's no guarantee, but they're working toward that goal. Another thing these groups would like to see is that these majority-minority districts not only have a majority of the total population be made up of minorities, but also that a majority of the eligible voters in the district be minorities as well. This was an issue 10 years ago — on paper, districts appeared to be majority-minority, but when you removed ineligible voters, those under voting age, as well as non-citizens, the district really fell short of the goal.

The Legislature has two and a half weeks to get these new legislative districts approved. Why is there now the sense of urgency to finish? And why are they holding off wrapping up the new, and fewer, congressional districts?

Candidates for the Massachusetts House have to live in their district a full year before being elected. Since the next election is Nov. 4, 2012, the new map has to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor by Nov. 4 of this year. That's a hard deadline. While I think the most interest in redistricting centers on the congressional maps, there's no residency requirement for candidates to live in the district, so that can wait. I would look for those maps to come out around the first full week of November, like Nov. 7 to Nov. 11.

So what exactly should we be looking for when the maps come out?

First thing you want to look at is will your state representative still be your state representative after the next election? Have you been moved out of your district, or has your representative been moved out of the district? There were population drops in Berkshire County out west and Barnstable County down on Cape Cod. Look to see those areas lose a district or two. Counties that grew include Worcester, Suffolk and Plymouth counties. They'll gain districts.

Also, look to see how many more majority-minority districts are created, and if they are that way simply because of the population or are a majority of the eligible voters in the new district minorities, as well?

Another thing to keep an eye on is what is done to districts currently represented by freshmen Republicans. That was the big, under-reported story last November here. Republicans flipped a lot of Democratic districts, doubling their number in the House. Look to see if those districts get carved up in a way that makes it tougher for those freshmen Republicans to get a second term.

This program aired on October 18, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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