BOSTON — As lawmakers get to work on redrawing the state’s political maps, they’re being urged not to split cities and towns to reconfigure congressional districts.
During a livestreamed hearing Tuesday night, members of the Legislature’s Committee on Redistricting heard pleas from local officials in the 6th Congressional District to keep communities intact.
“Splitting towns between congressional districts and even state rep. districts confuses voters and makes the process of running elections and printing the ballots much more complicated,” said John Lippett, a Reading resident and vice chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee.
Lippett said Reading’s political boundaries are an example. A prior redistricting plan divided the community of about 25,000 people between two state House seats, even though it is represented by one state senator.
He said at one point the town was split between two congressional districts, which was also confusing.
“I urge you to take that into consideration as you put these districts together,” he said.
The sprawling 6th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, includes a majority of Essex County’s communities and seven in Middlesex County.
Still, a number of communities are split between the 6th District and other neighboring districts. Andover, for example, is split between the 6th District and the 3rd District, represented by U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan.
The panel’s House chairman, Rep. Michael Moran, D-Brighton, said lawmakers “do their best” to prevent communities from being divided by redistricting but those decisions are often necessary to ensure equal representation.
“We try when we can to keep communities whole, but sometimes the math just doesn’t add up neatly,” he said.
The state’s redistricting has been delayed by a lack of data from the federal government.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced in March that due to the pandemic and other delays, it would not be able to deliver detailed data from last year’s count that states need for redistricting until Sept. 30, instead of its usual March 31 timetable.
The bureau says some data will be released in an older format by August for states facing tight deadlines to redraw maps ahead of fall elections.
Meanwhile, the state’s top election official is quarreling with lawmakers over a proposal to allow the Legislature to draw new maps for congressional and legislative seats before local election precincts are revised to account for the census, taking the process out of its usual order.
Lawmakers say the move is necessary to get the redistricting moving. But Secretary of State Bill Galvin says the changes are “unnecessary and unwise” and would likely result in legal challenges.
He’s urging Gov. Charlie Baker to veto the proposal if it reaches his desk.
The U.S. Constitution requires states to redraw congressional districts every decade to account for changes in population. The numbers also guide the drawing of state legislative districts and local election precincts.
While boundaries of congressional districts may shift, Massachusetts won’t see a net change in its representation in Congress, based on the 2020 population count. Its nine-member delegation to the House of Representatives will remain that size for at least another decade.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.