Haverhill city councilors approved Haverhill’s newly drawn voting districts Tuesday night, despite worries they will confuse voters and diminish the strength of their ballots by splitting eight local precincts.
The reluctant 8-1 approval came when councilors were told failure to adopt the new map would mean the state would send someone in who would draw the same map and charge the city for the service. Michael Owens, Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s reprecincting community engagement director, explained cities and towns are required to redraw their voting precincts after each national census.
“Normally, during the reprecincting process, the census comes to a finish and then around February or April, the U.S. Census Bureau would release that data to states for cities and towns to use to redraw their voting precincts,” he said.
Because of COVID-19, Owens explained, the Census Bureau was late releasing the data and the process unrolled backwards. Owens said cities would usually draw new voting precincts by June and send maps to the Local Elections District Review Commission. Data would then be sent to the state legislature and used as building blocks for redistricting larger legislative districts.
Fearing the delay would not give them enough time to pull papers in February to run for re-election, legislators passed a bill in October allowing them to draw their legislative districts without waiting for communities.
“What that did, when the legislature completed their process, what happened is when you lay those legislative lines on top of the voter precincts, that they created sub-precincts,” Owens explained.
Owens reminded councilors his boss, Galvin, opposed the plan, but was ignored by the legislature. As WHAV reported first Nov. 5, Galvin yesterday predicted chaos in Haverhill. In Haverhill’s case, that meant a total of 13 sub-precincts which could mean one city street could have two or three different representatives, causing considerable voter confusion. Owens, however, said his office worked with Haverhill’s City Clerk Linda L. Koutoulas, and managed to whittle that number down to eight subprecincts.
No matter what, he said, Haverhill would have redrawn voting lines because the city’s population grew by 10.19% over the past decade.
Councilors were particularly frustrated because one of the stated goals of the census was to level the playing field for minority voters—a goal Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien said was completely missed.
“What they’ve done dilutes Haverhill so significantly, it’s appalling. With the number of people, their vote is not going to count against Lowell and Lawrence and it’s a false premise because it doesn’t give a certain group of people more votes. So, this whole premise that they did this to bring a Latino group together is crap,” she said.
Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, the lone councilor to vote against the new map, said the plan will almost certainly discourage people from voting, while Councilor William J. Macek said the whole process “smells of gerrymandering” to him.
Under threat, the Council passed the plan by a vote of 8-1 with Bevilacqua refusing to give it his endorsement. Owens actually collected the signed documents right then and there since they were due at the state the next day.