Reprecincting Forum - Sep 22nd, 2021
Forum held via remote participation. Materials were available from https://www.arlingtonma.gov/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/27802/18.
The forum begins with a recorded video of Kelly Lynema (a member of the reprecincting working group, and a planner in the Department of Planning and Community Development).
Reprecincting is required, as a result of population changes reported by the US census. The Secretary of State's office provided draft maps, based solely on population changes. However, municipalities have the ability to propose boundary changes based on local knowledge. The Select Board will vote on the new maps in October. The new maps must be submitted to the Secretary of the State by the end of October.
The reprecincting process must follow several state guidelines: there is a maximum of 4,000 residents/precinct; the number of town meeting members in each precinct must be divisible by 3; the total number of town meeting members should be as close to 240 as mathematically possible; and, precinct boundaries may not cross census blocks. Finally, if a precinct boundary changes, all town meeting members in that precinct must run for re-election.
Arlington currently has 21 precincts with 12 town meeting members each (252 total). One set of maps proposes to retain this number of precincts. Another possible configuration is 16 precincts with 15 town meeting members each (240 total). The state and town have each drawn maps for 21 and 16 precinct configurations.
The town formed a reprecincting working group, consisting of four members of town staff. They're being advised by the election modernization committee and the league of women voters.
The working group considered several demographic factors in addition to population. These included race, income, age, renting vs owning, and housing density.
The state's 21 precinct map is the closest to our current one. The state also provided a 16 precinct map, which could make elections easier to administer. The town developed 16 and 21 precinct maps of its own. The town-drawn 16 precinct map is the most equal in terms of racial and economic differences.
These maps are preliminary, and will be updated when we receive final census data.
The next video features Juli Brazile, our Town Clerk.
The number of town meeting members needs to be as close to 240 as possible, and divisible by three. With reprecincting, some voters may need to vote in a different location.
According to Ms. Brazile, Arlington voters want election day voting, early voting in person, and voting by mail.
New precinct boundaries mean that every town meeting member must run for re-election, so a competitive, contested election is likely.
Having fewer precincts will simplify election logistics. Some election expenses are tied to the number of polling locations; this is currently $16.3k for our eight polling locations. The variable figure comes from staffing; more precincts mean a higher staffing requirement. There are also staffing challenges that come from providing three ways to vote. More precincts means more election materials (e.g., different ballots for each precinct).
Why consider 16 precincts? It would be the minimum number that preserves existing neighborhood boundaries.
Ms. Brazile notes that the choice of polling stations is up to the Select Board, and the board may change them whenever it feels the need to do so.
The next speaker is Patty Muldoon, from the Arlington League of Women Voters.
Ms. Muldoon says we're here because fair elections and democracy are important. The town must be divided in a way that's fair, and doesn't undermine minority rights.
The League of Women voters is a three-tiered organization, with tiers for the national, state, and local levels.
The Election Modernization Committee consists of fourteen members of various backgrounds. Their goal is improving town elections.
Every ten years, the US census tries to count every resident in the United States. This affects things like revenue distribution, and congressional representation.
The select board has the final say over precinct maps.
The state must also redraw its district boundaries. Massachusetts generally bases state district boundaries on municipal precinct boundaries. Arlington used to have three state house districts, and now we have two.
Nationally, the League of Women Voters is advocating for the passage of SB.1, which would limit gerrymandering.
Public feedback on reprecincting is due Oct 3rd. The town needs feedback on 16 vs 21 precincts, communities of interest, and boundary suggestions.
Finally, we move on to questions and answers.
Question: How can the Select Board choose precinct boundaries before the state?
(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) According to Ms. Brazile, precinct boundaries are the building blocks for state districts. The Secretary of State told municipalities to proceed. The precinct map can be revised if there's a conflict between the state and local boundaries.
Question: Census block boundaries can't be broken up by precincts?
(Juli Brazile) Census blocks are chosen by the Census Bureau. Those are the building blocks we have to work with.
Question: How was demographic data used when drawing the town maps?
(Juli Brazile) Ms. Brazile says their mapping tool allows them to overlay census blocks and look at different pieces of demographic data. The working group will attempt to capture some screen shots to illustrate how this works.
Question: What's the cost difference for 16 vs 21 precincts?
(Juli Brazile) It's hard to cost out, due to pending changes in election law. The changes aren't firm enough to determine staffing requirements.
Question: How will this affect polling locations?
(Juli Brazile) The choice of polling locations is up to the Select Board. The maps show current locations, and potential others.
Question: How will changing the number of precincts change the Finance Committee?
(Juli Brazile) The finance committee has one representative for each precinct, plus an at large member if the number of precincts is even. The fincom membership would have to be adjusted, or we could change our town manager act.
Question: If we reduce the number of town meeting members to 240, how will that help non-traditional candidates?
(Juli Brazile) 240 members is a state target; towns can only go above this number if it's a mathematical necessity. If all town meeting members are being re-elected, then it's a wide open race which should generate interest. Ms. Brazile would like to collect and publish town meeting member statements, if the Office of Political and Campaign Finance is okay with the town doing so.