Redistricting Hearings Announced, Website Launched

posted Mar 17, 2011, 10:17 AM by Elysse Magnotto-Cleary   [ updated Mar 17, 2011, 10:18 AM ]
By Michael Norton and Kyle Cheney

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 16, 2011……Massachusetts lawmakers formally began work Wednesday on redistricting, the decennial effort to redraw the boundaries of legislative and Congressional districts that is rich with constitutional principles, mathematical axioms, and raw politics.

Attorneys advising state lawmakers charged with drawing up new districts said Wednesday they expect the Census Bureau to ship local-level data to Massachusetts next week – the critical data is due by April 1 at the latest. 

Massachusetts will be one of the last states to receive that data, which is already being poured into redrawn districts, and litigation, in other states that received local-level numbers earlier this year. 

“This is the beginning of our collective education on the subject,” said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), Senate chair of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting.

Lawmakers unveiled a web site - - that they say will include footage from all their statewide hearings, links to relevant court cases, district maps, 2010 Census data breakdowns, historical Census data and a feedback page to connect constituents with the committee.

“No voice is more important than any other voice, but all voices will be heard in this process,” said Rosenberg.

House Minority Leader Bradley Jones said he had hoped the Legislature would appoint an independent redistricting committee but said he looked forward to participating in the process.

The committee plans 13 public hearings and released details on most hearings Wednesday:

-- Saturday, March 26, 10 a.m., Springfield High School;
-- Monday, March 28, 6 p.m., Lynn City Hall;
-- Monday, April 11, 6 p.m., Clark University, Worcester;
-- Monday, April 25, 6 p.m., Pittsfield City Hall;
-- Monday, May 2, 6 p.m., Massasoit Community College, Brockton;
-- Wednesday, May 11, 6 p.m., Framingham State University;
-- Monday, May 16, 6 p.m., New Bedford Public Library;
-- Tuesday, May 31, 6 p.m., Greenfield Community College;
-- Monday, June 6, 6 p.m., Quincy High School;
-- Monday, June 13, 6 p.m., Lawrence High School;

Asked whether the committee would notify the public about private meetings held by members, Rep. Michael Moran, the committee co-chair, said, “I am going to try to the very best of my ability to put as many meetings as I can on the website.”

Moran said he intended to meet with a group from Chelmsford next week and also planned to make appearances in Somerset and Wayland.

H. Reed Witherby and Jeff Wice, special counsel to the Senate on redistricting, started the proceedings by going over constitutional guidelines, population equality standards, partisan and racial gerrymandering, the impact of case law on redistricting, and the Voting Rights Act.

Witherby described redistricting as an effort in which lawmakers will need to balance competing factors, interests, and legal requirements, including attempts to avoid splitting up towns, cities and counties, to create or maintain majority-minority districts, and to live within district population deviation allowances.

The ideal Congressional district in this year’s redistricting effort would contain 727,514 people, Witherby said, with 163,691 people in the ideal Senate district and 40,923 in the ideal House district.

On the topic of redrawing districts with political motivations in mind, Witherby said the courts have recognized that redistricting is a political process and that partisan motivations alone do not render new maps unconstitutional, but could in “extreme” cases. “In practice, we don’t know how to decide and you won’t know how to decide whether you’ve crossed that line or not,” Witherby told the committee.

Because other states grew faster than Massachusetts over the past decade, the Legislature this year needs to eliminate one of its ten Congressional districts and deliver a nine-district map for candidates in next year’s elections. All ten members of the current delegation are Democrats. Several have announced plans to seek re-election and no members of the delegation has yet confirmed that they will not seek re-election, although several are deciding whether to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Scott Brown (R-Wrentham).