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Baker signs reprecincting bill, changing redistricting process

Gov. Charlie Baker announces the end of the state of emergency on June 15. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Gov. Charlie Baker announces the end of the state of emergency on June 15. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday signed into law legislation that officially reverses the order in which the Legislature drafts new district maps and municipalities draw their new precinct maps as part of the redistricting process.

Cities and towns would typically go first and create their local voting wards and precincts before lawmakers took their turn enacting legislation creating new Congressional and legislative maps. But the law (H 4118) Baker signed reflects what's already occurring - the Legislature is going first and municipalities will then have 30 days to complete the local process no later than Dec. 15.

The switch in the order of operations is one of the bumps along the road of the 2020 U.S. Census. The collection of the 2020 Census data was affected by the onset of the pandemic and this year the release of the Census data was delayed about two months because of pandemic impacts.

The House version of the bill, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, would have required municipal precincts to be redrawn to follow the contours of new state legislative districts, "which could have created significant disruption in cities and towns with district-based councils or school committees, and in towns with representative town meetings." The compromise that Baker signed, the MMA said last month, was "closely aligned with the Senate version" and "would not require precincts to follow legislative lines."

October is shaping up as redistricting month on Beacon Hill, with one top Democrat telling the News Service last week that it is increasingly likely that legislative leaders will release a draft map of new House and Senate districts within the next two weeks. House candidates must live in their new districts by Nov. 8 in order to qualify to compete in those districts in 2022, giving lawmakers a soft deadline.

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