FALL RIVER, Massachusetts -- The redistricting process in Massachusetts is well underway, with the Senate expected to vote soon on new maps for the next decade of state legislative elections.
Beth Huang, executive director of the group Massachusetts Voter Table, which is a member of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, said one priority for the congressional maps, which have yet to be drawn, is keeping certain communities together, including, for instance, the coastal city of Fall River, which borders Rhode Island.
Currently, it is split in two. Half is with New Bedford, a similar community with a large fishing industry, but the other half is with suburbs of Boston, where many voters have vastly different interests.
"If we really want working-class coastal communities to be well represented, they have to be unignorable," Huang asserted. "We think that combining Fall River and New Bedford into the same district will elevate the needs and concerns of residents."
Huang added splitting communities can dilute their voting power, because they make up a smaller share of eligible voters for that district. But she pointed out if communities stay together, residents with similar needs have more influence over their representatives.
After the first drafts of the legislative maps were submitted, the Drawing Democracy Coalition recommended alterations to districts with large populations of BIPOC, immigrant and low-income residents, including the Brockton, Haverhill and Boston Senate districts and the New Bedford and Revere House districts.
Huang noted while the committee did not address all of their concerns, they did make some changes.
"We're pleased to see that there are 13 new majority-minority districts in the House and three new majority-minority districts in the Senate," Huang acknowledged. "We are hopeful that in the next decade, voters of color will have a stronger voice."
Research shows currently, Massachusetts' elected officials do not reflect the diversity of the state, and groups hope new maps will help change that.
According to a report from MassINC and Tufts, white residents are overrepresented by 16 percentage points. And women hold fewer than 30% of seats in the General Assembly, despite making up more than half the population.
Source: Commonwealth News Service