This year, the Massachusetts legislature will carry out redistricting: the process of redrawing political boundaries to account for a decade’s worth of population change. These boundaries impact who represents us at the local, state, and federal level. Redistricting is foundational to the idea of “one-person, one-vote” because of its potential to forward the parity of political power between all districts in the Commonwealth. At the same time, the process has previously been used to systematically exclude communities from political power. We are stiving to ensure that Massachusetts conducts redistricting in a manner that prioritizes equity and accuracy.
Redistricting in 2021
Originally, the Census Bureau was supposed to release data for redistricting in early 2021, after which the state legislature would begin drawing districts. But because the COVID19 pandemic greatly slowed the process of actually carrying out the Census, final population data will not be released until the end of September 2021. Legislators will submit their final districts, created with community input, to the governor to approve most likely by the beginning of November. Municipalities, meanwhile, will redraw their precincts at the end of the year.
Why Redistricting Matters
The way district lines are drawn influences who runs and gets elected for public office. The composition of residents within a district can impact the level of obligation felt by elected officials to respond to the needs of a community. Subsequently, advocating for electoral districts that keep communities whole can bolster the democratic potential of the Massachusetts government. Further, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) specifically allows for the creation of Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) districts which contain a majority of a racial or linguistic ethnic population.
Criteria for Redistricting
There are two main rules governing the redistricting process. First, each district should have the same total population. Second, the VRA provides additional protections against minority vote dilution. Districts should be neat unless accounting for natural boundaries or to comply with the VRA. They should follow existing political subdivisions and minimize the splitting of cities and counties.
Drawing boundaries to ensure equity is essential. BIPOC communities, as well as immigrant communities, most often face discrimination during the redistricting process. Methods of discrimination include “cracking,” which dilutes communities to dramatically limit their presence in a district, and “packing” which places communities into one compact district when they could effectively be spread across additional districts. Federal courts can rule districts to be discriminatory if created by these methods.
Interested in learning more?
The Drawing Democracy Coalition is a collection of advocacy organizations dedicated to ensuring that the redistricting process empowers BIPOC and low-income voters. Learn more here.