Try as they might, City Council members couldn’t equally divide the city’s population into nine wards with each counting 9,186 residents. Actually, they could come close, but then there were other issues to deal with:
Were pockets being created?
Were neighborhoods being cut up?
Would new precincts be created that would prompt additional staffing costs for running elections?
Today’s technology made drawing new ward lines to equalize the wards, to account for changes recorded by the 2010 Census, easier than it has ever been. Kimball Brace, of Election Data Services, sat at a laptop Tuesday evening in Council Chambers. It was Brace who redrew the ward lines 10 years ago, and was retained by the state to carve out the Congressional Districts as well as the State Senate and House Districts. As six members of the council gathered around a printed proposal of how to redraw the lines, Brace was ready to consider suggestions. He would let the computer do the work.
Ward 3, which has lost residents since the last census, largely because of the acquisition of homes by the airport, would need to be extended into the neighboring wards. It would need to pick up more than 800 residents to meet the target 9,186. Alternatively, Wards 5, 8 and 9 would need to shed 531 to 689 residents each to reach the ideal number.
Brace’s stab at a plan brought all nine wards within the allowable deviation and none of the current council would be displaced, meaning they would not be facing an incumbent if they all sought re-election. The proposed changes also ensured school committee members would all retain their districts.
It looked like it would work but council members had concerns.
“I would like to see it [ward lines] more close to natural boundaries,” said Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon.
As they looked at how that might be done, Brace projected the neighborhood being discussed on a screen and, using a cursor, drew a line around the streets now proposed to be moved from one ward to another. In seconds, the computer made the calculations showing how many residents were moved from one ward into another.
The goal was to try to create wards equal in size, eliminate pockets and reduce precincts. Going into the redistricting, the city has 53 precincts, but, said Brace, with recent legislation allowing precincts to have 3,000 registered voters, the number of precincts can be reduced to 35.
Donna MacDonald, director of elections, would like to see the elimination of all precincts with less than 500 registered voters. If that could be accomplished, the number of precincts would drop to 31. Each precinct that is consolidated translates into savings.
With the transfer of a Ward 7 pocket, with a precinct with just 72 registered voters, into Ward 9, one precinct was easily eliminated.
With a little slicing and dicing, removing the proposed inclusion of a portion of Riverview in Ward 4 and leaving it in Ward 5, while extending Ward 4 on the south east side of Church Avenue, eliminated another precinct.
“Is that going to affect you?” Solomon was asked.
“It affects the taxpayers,” Solomon said, referring to the savings, “and therefore it affects me.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson was focused on maintaining her ward “in the shadow of the airport.” Donna Travis said she was happy with the proposal for Ward 6 and there were few questions – from Steve Colantuono (R-Ward 1); Raymond Gallucci (D-Ward 8) and Bruce Place (D-Ward 2) – about the impacts to their wards. John DelGiudice (D-Ward 5) Steve Merolla (D-Ward 9) and Charles Donovan (D-Ward 7) were not in attendance.
After considering the alterations discussed, Brace will return with another plan in time for council consideration on April 23.
A redistricting plan needs to gain council approval and be in place in time for this year’s election cycle, starting with the declaration for office in June. MacDonald said she hopes to have letters of notification to registered voters by the end of this month or early May.