An Introduction to Re-precincting and Redistricting in Massachusetts

"The great principle established by [Mass. Const. Amend. Art. XXI] is equality of representation among all the voters of the Commonwealth. That is a fundamental principle of representative government… There can be no equality among citizens if the vote of one counts for considerably more than that of another in electing public officers." Attorney General v. Suffolk County Apportionment Comm'rs, 224 Mass. 598, 604 (1916) (Rugg, C.J.). All people should have free, open and fair access to the electoral process, and every person's vote should carry the same weight. The law requires that legislative districts be redrawn on a periodic basis so that shifts in population will neither unfairly increase nor diminish a particular voter's voice in government. Every ten years, the legislature and local governments must re-draw boundaries that take into consideration population, communities of interest, and state and federal constitutional requirements, amongst others. The government may not unfairly dilute minority voting strength, nor may it make race the predominant factor in redistricting absent a compelling state interest.

In any examination of redistricting, it is important to identify the basic elements that comprise a redistricting plan. This booklet briefly explains the process for redrawing the boundaries of the electoral districts in Massachusetts. In addition, it will describe the major state and federal constitutional considerations in the redistricting process.

By precedent, wards and precincts in the cities and towns within which they are comprised, form the building blocks for the larger legislative districts. The smallest electoral district is the precinct; its residents all vote at the same polling place on election day.

Districts must be drawn so as to contain roughly equal numbers of residents. This is different from the number of registered voters. Population is determined by the most recent federal census. All local re-precincting and state redistricting relies on the federal census taken in 2010 and at subsequent ten year intervals.

Part One outlines how local districts (precincts and wards) are drawn by local officials subject to approval by a state commission called the Local Election Districts Review Commission.

Part Two describes how legislative districts for electing members of Congress, state senators, state representatives and governor's councillors are drawn by the state legislature.