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Every 10 years, Massachusetts cities and towns are required to review their population data from the most recent decennial U.S. Census. Then, using that data, they must submit a locally approved ward and precinct map for approval by the State.
In fall 2021, the City of Somerville is analyzing the population results from the 2020 U.S. Census to update ward and precinct maps accordingly. The State provides municipalities with strict guidelines that must be followed for this process.
An internal working group is thus collaborating with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office to propose new ward and precinct boundaries. The new boundaries must adhere to State standards to maintain balance and equity. For example, precinct populations cannot exceed 4,000 people and each precinct must be within 5% of the average precinct size. You can find more detail on the standards below.
Population Changes in Somerville
Somerville currently has seven wards and each ward has three precincts, for a total of 21 precincts in the city. Somerville’s population in the 2020 U.S. Census was 81,045 individuals. This is a 7% increase from the 2010 U.S. Census when the population was 75,754. The State requires that reprecincting account for both current and reasonably anticipated population growth.
Anticipated Precinct Changes in Somerville
The expectation is that only minor adjustments to ward boundaries will be necessary if an additional precinct is added to each ward so that each ward has four precincts going forward instead of three. Adding new precincts while making only minor ward boundary changes means the only change most residents might experience as a result of reprecincting locally would be a new voting location and shorter voting lines. For the vast majority, their Ward Councilor and School Committee member would remain the same. Voters residing in the small number of blocks that will need to be shifted to an adjacent ward would have a new Ward Councilor and School Committee member. This change will not affect voting for the 2021 fall election. New representation would go into effect on December 31, 2021.
The Math Behind Reprecincting
To adhere to State guidelines, Somerville’s target population per precinct is 3,859 people. Based on the 5% rule noted above, our 21 precincts must have a population of at least 3,666 people, but no more than 4,000. The State requires that municipalities not only account for current populations but for some reasonably anticipated growth. Using conservative estimates for an anticipated increase in housing development in the next few years in Somerville, a number of precincts would exceed the maximum well before the next opportunity to update the ward and precinct boundaries in 2031. In anticipation of this growth and to ensure balanced wards and precincts, the working group has recommended increasing the number of precincts per ward to four.
Again, this change is not expected to alter ward boundaries significantly, however some blocks may shift to a different ward. Once new boundary proposals are finalized. They will be submitted to the City Council and then the State for approval. The final approved map will go into effect December 31, 2021.
Draft Proposed Ward and Precinct Boundaries
The map below shows a draft map for the proposed seven wards with four precincts per ward for a total of 28 precincts.
Current Ward and Precinct Boundaries
The map below shows our current precinct map with seven wards with three precincts per ward for a total of 21 precincts.
- City of Somerville receives information from the Secretary of the Commonwealth about anticipated U.S. Census data release in August 2021 and reprecincting requirements.
- City of Somerville forms internal working group in anticipation of upcoming U. S. Census release.
- The City of Somerville receives U.S. Census 2020 population data and a draft map from the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
- The internal working group reviews the data and draft map and submits revision requests to the State.
- The City of Somerville and State finalize edits to the map. The working group submits the map and accompanying legal materials to the City Council for consideration.
- The City Council votes on the proposed changes.
- The City submits the final approved map and legal materials to the State’s Local Election Districts Review Commission (LEDRC) for approval.
November – December 2021
- LEDRC reviews submissions from municipalities and notifies of decisions.
- LEDRC-approved maps go into effect December 31, 2021.
The law requires that voting precincts established by a city or town must meet the following requirements:
- Each new precinct must be “composed of compact and contiguous territory” without protruding fingers or long tails.
- Precincts must be bounded by the center-line of streets or other well defined boundaries such as streams or other bodies of water, railroad tracks, power lines or other clearly visible geographic figures. These features must be recognized as block boundaries by the United States Bureau of the Census and appear on their official block boundary maps. Rear lot lines or other imaginary lines are not acceptable. The use of census boundaries provides redistricting authorities with not only a definitive number of inhabitants in a fixed area, but with demographic information obtained from the federal census, which is essential to any redistricting plan.
- No precinct may contain more than 4,000 residents.
- Every precinct’s population must be within five percent (5%) of the average precinct population for that ward or town. Ward populations must be within five percent (5%) of the average ward population for the city.
- Redrawn precinct and ward boundaries must not result in the dilution of minority group members’ votes.
The staff team working on this effort includes:
- Cortni Desir, Acting Director, SomerStat
- Keith Johnson, GIS Coordinator, Department of Infrastructure and Asset Management
- Charlotte Leis, Planner, Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development
- Hannah Pappenheim, Assistant City Solicitor
- Nicholas Salerno, Election Commissioner
The Reprecincting Working Group welcomes feedback from the public regarding the proposed map. Please email comments, questions, or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written comments can be mailed as well to:
Attn.: Reprecincting Working Group
c/o Elections Department
City of Somerville
93 Highland Ave.,
Somerville, MA 02143
All comments must be received by October 14 by 4:30 p.m.
What is a ward?
A ward is a geographically bounded unit for election purposes, which consists of one or more precincts.
What is a precinct?
A precinct is the smallest geographically bounded unit used for state election purposes.
How do I know what ward and precinct I live in?
You can look up your current ward and precinct using our MySomerville lookup tool at somervillema.gov/MySomerville. Or, if you need assistance, contact 311 at 617-666-3311.
Why did you draw a line down the middle of my street that puts my neighbors in a different precinct than me?
Precinct boundaries are required to use the same types of boundaries used by the U.S. Census. The Census uses the center line of streets and other natural boundaries such as streams, bodies of water, railroad tracks, power lines or other clearly visible geographic features. Our current precinct map also follows these same guidelines.
Why is the line between two precincts sometimes jagged?
The census blocks themselves sometimes have odd shapes, but it may also be that to balance the numbers in a precinct, we need one or two blocks moved into the next precinct.
Will my polling place change?
Some residents may have a new polling place starting with the first election after the new precincts go into effect. The new precincts go into effect on December 31, 2021. It’s always a good idea to check your polling place before voting, as polling locations may also change for other reasons such as construction or building closures. You can find your polling location by using our My Somerville lookup tool at somervillema.gov/MySomerville. Or, if you need assistance, contact 311 at 617-666-3311.
Will my ward councilor and School Committee member change?
The proposed reprecincting plan is expected to result in a small number of blocks moving into adjacent wards. Voters who live in those blocks will be represented by the councilor and School Committee member for their new ward starting December 31, 2021.
Will my state and congressional representatives change?
After the release of the U.S. Decennial Census, Massachusetts is constitutionally mandated to change its House, Senate, Governor's Council, and Congressional district boundaries to accommodate shifts in population and provide equal representation to its citizens. Based on this process, some voters may have a change in their district and representation. To learn more about redistricting, visit https://malegislature.gov/Redistricting.
Does this affect the November 2, 2021, municipal election?
No. All voters will vote in their current wards and precincts for the November 2, 2021 election. For information on the 2021 election, visit somervillema.gov/Elections.
Interested in learning more about the Reprecincting process or Census 2020?
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