State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz is calling on the City to take action on reducing the numbers of voters in several precincts within his district – precincts that are some of the largest in the state and frequently result in long waits and long lines on Election Day.
Michlewitz said he has watched for some time as growth in the neighborhood and new residents moving in has turned into more and more voters within his district, and at least five of the precincts he represents are overburdened and give residents less access to voting than in other places around the city.
“I think it’s something we need to focus on before the end of 2021 because the window will close for another 10 years and it will make it all the more difficult the next time around,” he said. “Five out of the seven largest precincts in the state are in my district.”
One of the many nuances in Boston politics is the fact that the City is exempt from having to re-draw ward and precinct lines every 10 years. While all other cities and towns have to go through that exercise with state oversight every 10 years after the federal Census numbers come out, Boston does not. Boston has been exempt from that process since, Michlewitz believes, around 1920 – making the lines go back 100 years.
“The main reason why precincts have gotten so large is because of this,” he said. “You have lines that are antiquated in the sense there have been many new developments and new neighborhoods that have popped up and growth. My district has probably seen the most growth in the last couple of decades. You have a lot of places downtown with residents where there weren’t any residents before. It’s been frustrating to deal with.”
The precincts include 3-6 in Beacon Hill, and 3-1 and 3-8 in the North End, but two of the worst are in the South End, Back Bay and Bay Village. They include 3-7, which is a South End precinct that votes at Cathedral High. With so much development of what were vacant buildings in the East Berkeley and Harrison Avenue and New York Streets areas, the numbers of voters in that precinct has gotten far larger than 20 years ago.
The other precinct is 5-1, which votes at the Benjamin Franklin Institute and includes most of the Ellis South End neighborhood, Bay Village and parts of the Back Bay.
With early voting and mail-in ballots, it’s not as bad as it was, but on Election Day it puts my constituents at a disadvantage if they want to vote in person,” he said. “We should not have to have decreased access to the ballot box because of this.”
A prime example, he said, was precinct 3-7 in 2007 during former President Barack Obama’s first election. He said he recalls seeing lines that were wrapped down Union Park, left on Harrison Avenue, and up Waltham Street and back to Cathedral.
“It was wrapped fully, 100 percent around the block,” he said.
Meanwhile, other precincts that vote at Cathedral, like 8-1 and 8-2 had virtually no waiting for voters to get to the polls.
Michlewitz said he has introduced several bills to try to change this situation, at least seven of them, and some made it pretty far. However, it was determined that such changes had to come from the City and not from the state. So, now, with redistricting coming very soon with the new Census, he is pushing all buttons to get attention to the matter and to get the lines re-drawn before 2021 ends.
“It’s critical that we get this thing solved in 2021 because we’re drawing the lines for Congress, state government and Governor’s Council seats,” he said. “If you don’t do it now, you miss the opportunity and have to wait 10 more years.”