League of Women Voters discuss redistricting process after census results

  • MARK

  • Congressional Districts 1 and 2. The official state-level data from the federal census — which is conducted every 10 years — triggers a redistricting process.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2021 4:56:21 PM

The League of Women Voters of Franklin County hosted a virtual People Powered Day of Action Thursday night, encouraging residents to get involved in the redistricting process that follows the 2020 federal census.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing legislative districts, explained Marie Gauthier, president of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County.

Although delayed in its timing due to the pandemic, the official state-level data from the federal census — which is conducted every 10 years — is expected to be available in August or September.

The redistricting process, however, is already underway following the release this week of initial data, with a hearing for Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional District, which currently contains Greenfield and eastern Franklin County, scheduled for May 24, at 5:30 p.m.

“The goal of redistricting is to maintain fair representation as the populations change and move,” she said.

Gauthier reviewed the background of redistricting, including the tactic of gerrymandering, which is to manipulate boundaries to favor one party or class.

“It’s illegal to gerrymander by racial minority, but it is not by political party,” she said. “That is something Congress needs to take up.”

In Massachusetts, she said, it’s the state Legislature that draws the districts for both the congressional districts and the legislative districts — the governor, then, has veto power over those districts.

In the following year — in this case, 2022 — redrawing at the city level would begin.

But all of that doesn’t happen without input from the public first, Gauthier noted.

“In the last round of redistricting, there were something like 22 public hearings on the process, prior to the maps even being drawn … so there’s a lot of opportunity to testify and get your voice heard while this is happening,” she said.

Following the initial release of data this week, Massachusetts has a population of 7,029,717 people, making for nine congressional districts, 40 senate districts, eight governor’s council districts and 160 representatives, reported state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, who was at the meeting Thursday night.

“The good news … is Massachusetts won’t lose a congressional district,” said Mark, former House chair of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting. “Our census efforts really paid off. … These final numbers beat the estimates by, I think, 90,000 or more from what we were expecting.”

The bad news, he said, is that he’s predicting the population gains aren’t going to come out of Western Massachusetts.

“They’re going to be coming out of the Boston area,” he said. “What we had expected was a growth rate of about 5 percent statewide, and closer to 11 percent or even more in the Boston area. Meanwhile, Franklin County, I think, was declining by about 0.5 percent … and Berkshire was declining at more than 3 percent.”

Although the districts are getting bigger in terms of population, he explained, that means Western Massachusetts districts are also going to get physically bigger and move more toward the east, where the population gains are being made.

“Right now, we’re fortunate enough we have two members of Congress from Western Massachusetts — Congressional District 1 and Congressional District 2. Those lines are going to have to be redrawn in some manner,” Mark said.

While the census timeline was delayed last year, Mark said the redistricting process, which the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting is responsible for, is required to happen the following year, as written in the state constitution.

“What I know for a fact is the committee wants to have a robust hearing schedule again,” he said. “Right now, we’re still in the virtual world, so the initial hearings will be virtual. They’ve committed to at least one per congressional district.”

Mark said it’s important for people in Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Berkshire counties to advocate for keeping as much of a voice in the region as is legally possible.

“We don’t want to lose any of the voice we have in the congressional districts, which is already pretty limited when you have a county of, at last estimate, 73,000 people,” he said of Franklin County. “It’s important to maximize the representation.”

Gauthier said in addition to attending public hearings, residents can contact local officials, write letters to the editor of local newspapers to let others know what’s going on, and attempt to redraw maps themselves — to share with legislators — using the website districtr.org.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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