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Legislators carve out new districts

New lines expand opportunity for communities

Avery Bleichfeld

For Boston’s communities of color, the redistricting process for the Massachusetts House and Senate offers a chance to advocate for better representation. Under maps expected to be approved Wednesday, the state Legislature would add 13 new majority-minority districts — districts in which the larger share of population is not white — in the House and three new ones in the Senate, resulting in a total of 33 House districts and six Senate districts that are majority-minority.

The new majority-minority Senate districts would include one in Brockton, a shift from the first round of proposed maps that had been released by the Senate committee. Under the newest draft of the maps, the district encompasses all of Brockton, Avon and about half of Randolph, along with four smaller neighboring towns that have majority-white populations.

For Brockton resident Rahsaan Hall, redrawing the district to give citizens in the city — which, according to the 2020 census, has a population of about 51% Black residents, 12% Latino residents and 2% Asian residents — a greater voice, is a positive step in the right direction. Currently, the three representatives and one senator whose districts include Brockton are all white.

“When communities of color, election after election, are not able to elect a candidate that they would like to see represent their interests, sometimes it is a case for redrawing the boundaries to ensure that people from these communities are able to elect a candidate who will be able to represent their interests and concerns,” Hall said of majority-minority districts.

The Drawing Democracy Coalition (DDC), a short-term coalition organized to create proposals for redistricting maps that center communities of color, originally proposed a Senate map that created a majority-minority district comprised of Brockton, Randolph, Stoughton and Avon.

Beth Huang, executive director of Massachusetts Voter Table, who convened the DDC, said she thinks the group’s original proposal offered a better option, because those four communities have more comparable racial demographics, class background and educational attainment. Despite that, she called the Senate’s proposed map a step in the right direction.

“It still provides substantial opportunity for at least increased accountability to communities of color in that state Senate district — that’s what matters to us — and hopefully, in the long-term, we will see increased opportunities for reflective representation in the next decade,” Huang said.

William Brownsberger, president pro tempore of the Massachusetts Senate and co-chair of the Redistricting Committee, said that the Redistricting Committee works to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which deals with protecting the rights of individuals to vote regardless of race.

He said that in their initial analysis, they could not create a district where Black residents of Brockton would have a strong enough presence to elect the candidate of their choice. Following the release of their initial drafts of the redistricting maps, and the response from advocates, they revisited the map and redrew it with the Brockton-Randolph-Avon map that is expected to be approved Wednesday.

When asked why the Redistricting Committee did not go with the DDC-proposed district, Brownsberger said that they “stretched about as far as we could within the bounds of the law.”

In the Massachusetts House, Chelsea will have a majority-Latino district under the proposed maps. The city, which is about two-thirds Hispanic or Latino according to the 2020 census, currently is drawn in a district with Charlestown. Under the proposed map it would stand largely by itself, along with a small portion of Everett.

Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea-based organization La Colaborativa, said she is excited for the opportunities a majority-Latino district will bring for their representation in the state House.

“We felt that Dan Ryan did a great job as our state rep, but we always wanted — based on what we knew in terms of the population that we had — that we should have had our own person already in our own district,” Vega said, “that we didn’t have to share our district with Charlestown, because Chelsea had enough population and enough minority-majority population to allow us to have our own state rep.”

Vega said that while her ideal candidate to represent the community would be someone who is Latino, the most important thing is that they should be from Chelsea.

“If it’s not Latino, but [someone who understands] the needs of our community because they live and breathe Chelsea every day, that’s what I care about,” Vega said.

For advocates across the Greater Boston area, the redrawn districts are only the start to getting more diverse leadership into the Statehouse.

“Creating the district in and of itself is not a panacea, but at least it removes barriers for candidates of color or candidates who are representing the interests and concerns of communities of color to run and win,” Hall said.

Both Hall and Huang pointed to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley in reference to amount of time it can take for action to occur. Pressley, who represents the 7th Congressional District, was elected to Congress in 2018; her district was drawn seven years before, in 2011.

The next redistricting process will not occur until after the next decennial census in 2030, but Huang said that advocates do not plan on waiting until then for more action.

“We don’t need to wait until 2030 for things to change,” Huang said. “There’s a lot of grassroots organizing that we are prepared to do and have been doing to make sure that we can make use of these new majority-minority districts.”