Boston City Council Calls for a Home Rule:Petition to Add Additional Polling Locations

By Beth Treffeisen

The Boston City Council last week called for a hearing to discuss filing a home rule petition to add additional polling locations in the six largest precincts in Boston.

Filed by City Councilor Bill Linehan of District 2 and City Council President Michelle Wu, this home rule petition would allow the City to subdivide these largest precincts in time for the upcoming municipal elections, without changing political district lines or ward lines.

“I put this matter forward because there are six or seven precincts in Boston now that are just so overpopulated that it is just virtually impossible for everyone to go vote at any given time at the same place,” said Councilor Linehan at the meeting. “Boston has not grown out but up, therefore most of those have occurred in the downtown corridor.”

This recommendation came from a public hearing held on February 6 with the Elections Department and community members that pointed out the largest precincts and the significant voter access challenges that they create.

Precincts are the smallest units of grouping voters. Each of the 255 precincts in Boston has its own polling location, although some are co-located with others in the same building.

Boston is exempt from the state law that requires  adjusting the precinct and ward boundaries to equalize the population they contain every 10 years.

In the decades since the last time Boston has made adjustments to equalize the precinct sizes the city’s population has shifted. Now, the largest precinct (Ward 3, Precinct 8, in Chinatown) has over 6,000 registered voters, while the smallest (Ward 8, Precinct 6 near South Bay) has just fewer than 500 voters.

In the past former City Councilor Mike Ross has tried to address these voter access issues created by unequal precincts to no avail.

James Chan, the Chief of Office of Councilor Lineman said that he has brought this issue up because in certain precincts, especially during the Presidential election, lines can go up to two hours or more.

By subdividing the six largest precincts, which are much larger than the rest, it will help reduce voter wait times and increase access to polling locations.

“Our district has grown and keeps on growing especially with the adding of new developments which then adds new people to that precinct,” said Chan.

The proposed six largest precincts include Ward 3, Precinct 6 in Downtown, Ward 3 Precinct 7, in the South End, Ward 3, Precinct 8 in Chinatown, Ward 5, Precinct 1 in the Bay Village and Chinatown, Ward 6, Precinct 1 in the Seaport, Fort Point, and South Boston and Ward 9, Precinct 3 in the South End and Lower Roxbury.

“Since the last census the City has been growing rapidly and they wanted to bring this issue up now so that when the next census comes along they will be prepared to do so,” said Chan.

The changes would need to be approved by the City Council and state legislature by June at the latest in order to implement in time for the September 2017 Preliminary election.

If passed, the home rule petition would allow for voter registration locations to be changed in the statewide system.

The first hearing will take place this Thursday, February 23 at 12:30 p.m. at Boston City Hall.

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