In light of Massachusetts’ long and sordid history with the issue of gerrymandering, it came as no surprise when Democratic Representative Michael J. Moran predicted two months ago that certain residents would be skeptical of the state’s recently-released congressional redistricting plans for the 2012 election cycle. However, thanks to the Massachusetts Legislature’s commitment to governmental transparency over the last eight months, it appears that the majority of Bay State citizens are confident that fairness and equal voting rights will prevail next November.
Beginning in March of this year, the Massachusetts Legislature Redistricting Committee (the “MLRC”) was given the difficult task of creating nine new voting districts following the loss of one of the state’s congressional districts due to the 2010 Census results. In light of the state’s failed 2001 Redistricting Act (which was struck down, in part, due to its discriminatory effects on the voting rights of African-Americans), the MLRC took great steps over the spring and summer monthsto ensure that Massachusetts residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on how the district lines would be drawn for 2012. Through the use of multiple public meetings and an extremely informative and accessible website, MLRC Chairman Michael J. Moran and his colleagues hoped that their “open-forum” philosophy would promote the idea that the new 2012 congressional districts would be created with voting equality principles in mind (as opposed to mere incumbency protection in a Democratic-dominated state). And for now, that philosophy seems to have accomplished its stated objective.
On November 7th, both the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly approved of the MLRC’s proposed congressional redistricting maps, which are expected to be entered intolaw before the end of this year’s legislative session. Certain minority groups have already applauded the MLRC’s efforts, due to the creation of the State’s “first district where black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters are in the majority.”Even potential Republican candidates are optimistic about their chances of winning in the Bay State, which hasn’t seen a Republican Massachusetts Representative in the U.S. Congress since 1996.For example, former GOP state senator Richard Tisei immediately announced his candidacy for the state’s new 6th Congressional District upon the realization that the district absorbed areas that voted heavily in favor of U.S. Senator Scott Brown last year. In addition, long-time U.S. Representative Barney Frank’s 4th Congressional District lost the city of New Bedford (largely seen as a Democratic stronghold), providing hope to his GOP challenger Elizabeth Childs. And with the MLRC’s decision to pit two incumbent Democratic representatives against one another in the 9th District, potential attacks on the Democrat-controlled MLRC on the basis of political gerrymandering appear to have fallen by the wayside.
For the most part, Massachusetts citizens have voiced their approval of the new redistricting plans, citing the near-even population distributionbetween districts, as well as the creation of districts with similar communityinterests, like medical funding and higher education concerns.Complaints against the MLRC’s proposal have been meager – mainly isolated to minor grumblings over city district assignments. But those complaining have viewed the undesirable reassignments as an inevitable consequence of the state’s loss of its 10th Congressional District. And continuing its steadfast adherence to the principles of transparency and community involvement in the process, the MLRC has allowed for public comment on the redistricting proposal for the first time in Massachusetts history.
While the citizens and politicians of Massachusetts haven’t had the chance to fully “digest” the ramifications of the MLRC’s new redistricting maps, most are optimistic that the nine new districts will provide all Massachusetts citizens with a fair chance to elect the representatives of their choice in 2012. Thus, for the first time in a long time, legislators and citizens in the Bay State appear to have finally overcome the “gerrymandering ghouls” of times past (for the time being) – simply by allowing that the public to have a say in how their voting district lines would ultimately be drawn.
Richard Clausi is a third-year student at William and Mary Law