House, Senate redistricting plan would increase minority voting clout

Proposed maps also protect incumbent lawmakers 

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS on Tuesday released proposed new maps for Massachusetts House and Senate districts, which would enhance the political clout of minority voters while also protecting almost all incumbents.   

“There is not a single place on the House map where you can draw a majority-minority district where we haven’t,” said Rep. Michael Moran, a Boston Democrat, who co-chaired the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting along with Sen. Will Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat. 

The redrawing of legislative district boundaries occurs every 10 years based on updated census numbers. This year, the mapmaking is also coming amid a national reckoning on race, and a push by minority advocates to increase the political power of communities of color. The new maps include 33 majority-minority districts in the House, up from 20 today. The Senate would have five majority-minority districts, up from three today. 

The 2020 census revealed that Massachusetts’ population had grown to more than 7 million people. The population migrated toward the urban centers, with the western part of the state growing at a slower rate than the east. The number of minority residents also increased significantly, with the Asian population increasing by 45 percent, the Hispanic population increasing by 41 percent, and the Black population increasing by 17 percent, even as the White population declined by 7 percent. 

The new political maps must reflect these demographic shifts.  

The maps also protect incumbent lawmakers. They do not include a single district where two sitting senators would have to run against each other. There are four House districts where two incumbents would be put into the same district. But two of those representatives – Claire Cronin of Easton and Maria Robinson of Framingham – are expected to leave for positions in the Biden administration.  

Continuity of representation is something we always factor in,” Brownsberger said.  

But Brownsberger noted that even if incumbents do not lose their seats, some lawmakers will have to run in substantially new districts. For example, Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover would no longer represent the city of Lawrence, which now comprises a large portion of his district. About half of the district represented by Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer will be new, due to population shifts that required Western Massachusetts districts to extend further east. On average, each senator is seeing about 20 percent of their district change, and only six senators have no changes to their district. 

In the Senate, Brownsberger said the biggest race-related shifts were made specifically to address violations of the Voting Rights Act, which occur when a district is drawn in a way that prevents a minority population from electing the candidate of its choice. 

One major shift is in the Senate district that currently comprises Lawrence and Andover. The Boston Globe recently reported that Lawrence’s large Latino population has felt underrepresented in the Senate because the district has become dominated politically by the predominantly white, wealthier neighboring town of Andover.  

The new map would combine Lawrence with Methuen and part of downtown Haverhill, creating a district that is 59 percent of Hispanic origin. Andover would be combined with North Andover, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Merrimac, and Amesbury in a district that is 82 percent White. 

The proposed new Senate district that joins Lawrence, Methuen, and a part of Haverhill.

Brownsberger said this is the first census where there was a large enough Hispanic population to create a majority Hispanic district around Lawrence. He said an analysis showed that White voters in the current district and Hispanic voters tend to vote for different candidates, and the Hispanic choice is consistently defeated. “This is a very clear voting rights violation and one we are intent on correcting,” Brownsberger said. 

Rep. Andy Vargas, a Democrat who represents Haverhill and recently announced plans to run for Senate, immediately criticized the plan for dividing up the city. “While I understand the challenges that come with redistricting, it is unacceptable to cut out the heart of Haverhill and segregate the most diverse precincts from the rest of the city,” Vargas said in a statement, noting that the proposed Senate map splits Haverhill along ethnic and racial lines. “While the motivations may be to empower Lawrence to elect a candidate of their choosing (as they should), it does not need to come at the expense of diluting the power of Latino residents of Haverhill who call our community home,” said Vargas, whose family came to the US from the Dominican Republic. 

The Senate also made major changes in Boston, where CommonWealth recently reported on a push by activists representing minority communities to create a majority-Black Senate district.  

Starting in the 1970s, a Roxbury-based Senate district was held by Black politicians for three decades, but the district was broken up by redistricting in 2001, which split the Black vote down the middle into the First and Second Suffolk Districts. Then-Sen. Dianne Wilkerson backed the change as way to give Black voters clout in two Senate districts, but neither seat is now held by a Black senator. 

The new maps would redraw the lines to make the Second Suffolk Senate District – now held by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who is giving up her seat to run for governor – more heavily Black. The district would become 43 percent Black, up from around 30 percent, and 26 percent Hispanic. White voters in the South End and Jamaica Plain would be drawn out of the district while Black voters in Mattapan and Hyde Park would be added into the district.  

“We believe Black voters will be able to elect the candidate of their choice,” Brownsberger said of the proposed new district. 

The neighboring First Suffolk Senate District, currently represented by Sen. Nick Collins, would remain majority minority, but Blacks would make up just 20 percent of that newly drawn district, with Hispanics and Asians around 14 percent each. 

Proposed changes to two Boston Senate districts would increase the Black voting clout in the Second Suffolk District (labeled D29 here), currently represented by Sonia Chang-Diaz, and reduce the Black population in the First Suffolk District (D30), currently represented by Nick Collins.

In the House, the maps designate 33 House districts as “minority opportunity,” which means at least half the district’s residents are non-White. That includes two majority Black districts, in Boston, and eight districts that are majority Hispanic, in areas including Lawrence, Holyoke, Springfield, Boston, and Chelsea.  

Moran said his goal was to create a majority-minority district wherever possible. For example, when the Holyoke district, which is heavily Hispanic, needed more voters, the committee bypassed the surrounding communities that are heavily White and drew from Chicopee, which has a Hispanic population. Worcester, which gained a lot of population, was reconfigured to go from one majority-minority district to three.  

The committee also redrew districts throughout Boston to enhance minority representation. In the 13th Suffolk House District represented by Rep. Dan Hunt, the committee removed the sections of Quincy that had been part of the seat and added the UMass Boston campus. According to the Dorchester Reporter, before the maps were released, Hunt threatened legal action depending on how the maps carve up his district. In the Boston-based 15th Suffolk House District, represented by Rep. Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plain, which now includes a small section of Brookline, the new map would remove Brookline and replace it with more precincts in Boston, turning a majority White district into a majority-minority district. 

In a Legislature controlled by Democrats, redistricting also has partisan overtones. The Republican-leaning 4th Essex House District most recently served by Rep. Brad Hill of Ipswich, who left to become a gaming commissioner, was carved up into multiple other districts. But Moran said he anticipates Republicans will make up a seat in the new 19th Worcester District, which includes Northborough, Southborough, and Westborough, and currently has no incumbent.  

The Drawing Democracy Coalition, a group that has been pushing for greater minority representation, voiced support for the House maps but suggested the Senate could have done more to promote minority representation – for example, by joining Brockton with Randolph and Stoughton and by avoiding overconcentrating Black Boston voters into one district. 

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The committee is accepting public comment on the new maps until October 18, after which the maps will be reported out of committee and sent to the full House and Senate. Lawmakers seeking reelection next year must live in their districts by November 8, which provides a deadline by which the Legislature would like approve the new maps.  

Moran said he hopes to pass the maps by “10 days before November 8,” which would give the Legislature time to override gubernatorial vetoes. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has 10 days to review any bill on his desk.