As Baker OKs new districts, top elections official warns of chaos

Secretary William Galvin.. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Secretary William Galvin. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

New political boundaries for the Massachusetts House and Senate became official Thursday as Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the Legislature's redistricting proposals, much to the dismay of the state's top elections official, who voiced concerns about "chaos" in split precincts.

Shortly before Baker's office confirmed that he signed bills redrawing all 160 House districts and all 40 Senate districts, Secretary of State William Galvin said he was "extremely disappointed" the governor approved the legislation.

"I am extremely disappointed that these bills were signed into law in their current form and I think it is a devastating blow to the voters of Massachusetts," Galvin said in a statement. "With local precincts divided multiple ways, it will inevitably lead to chaos at the polls and make it impossible for voters to understand who their elected representatives are."

Galvin's office provided a copy of a memo his staff sent to the governor on Monday highlighting numerous examples of communities where precincts would be split. In Haverhill, Galvin's office warned, "the House and Senate appear to have split the same precinct two different ways using different census blocks."

On Monday, Galvin told reporters he had "very significant concerns" that the division of legislative districts could result in some precincts requiring multiple ballots.

"Because so many districts were divided, precincts old and new, by both the House map and the Senate map and in fact not the same ones being divided, some voters might be confronted with multiple ballots, where if you live on Elm Street, you get this ballot, if I'm around the corner on Maple Street, I get a totally different ballot, and maybe there's a third level too because we're still awaiting congressional redistricting," Galvin said. "The question to me is: can I make these into ballots that voters will understand? At this point I'm very concerned."

Galvin, a Democrat, has clashed with the legislators leading the decennial redistricting effort several times in recent months during a process complicated by the late delivery of U.S. Census population data.

He unsuccessfully opposed a law, applicable only to the current redistricting effort, that changed deadlines and allowed the Legislature to draw its House and Senate maps before cities and towns completed their local reprecincting work.

The Redistricting Committee on Monday also released its draft congressional and Governor's Council maps, which are open for public comment until next week.



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