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Boston Elections Department announces results of comprehensive review of ward and precinct assignments

January 12, 2016

Elections

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Elections

The Boston Elections Department today announced that it has concluded its six month, comprehensive review of the ward and precinct assignments and precinct lines across the entire City of Boston. 

 The Boston Elections Department today announced that it has concluded its six month, comprehensive review of the ward and precinct assignments and precinct lines across the entire City of Boston. As a result an additional 370 addresses, representing 850 registered voters, need to be corrected.

The corrections were accepted by the Board of Election Commissioners during a meeting this morning, Tuesday, January 12 at 10 a.m. in City Hall.

The addresses that are impacted are in the neighborhoods of Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale, Roxbury and South End.

"These corrections are not only necessary, but they bring our ward and precinct assignments up to speed with our modernizing City," said Dion Irish, Commissioner of the Election Department and Chair of the Board of Election Commissioners. "We believe that many of these re-assignments will make voting more convenient for our constituents, but most importantly their addresses are now correctly assigned. I thank the staff of the Election Department, the Law Department and the Department of Innovation and Technology for their hard work on this months long process that will benefit our city and voters for years to come."

This comprehensive review began in August 2015, when errors made in the 1960s caused the incorrect assignment of five addresses in the Lower Mill Section of Dorchester. Following the discovery of these errors the Department and the Massachusetts Secretary of State's Office agreed that a comprehensive review of all address should be conducted to ensure that voters were able to correctly exercise their voting rights.  Prior to the municipal election on November 3, 2015, all address assignments were reviewed and corrected for geographical consistency with city council districts.

Following the election the review continued with a focus on all of the other aspects of our electoral boundaries. In conducting the review the Elections Department found that is was necessary to make changes to the legal descriptions and lines of certain precincts to conform to the changing physical condition of the City of Boston. Unlike other cities and towns, the City of Boston is not subject to state laws that require wards and precincts to be divided every ten years. As a result, many of the City's precinct descriptions became outdated. For example, a description may reference a "railroad line" as a precinct boundary, but the railroad line no longer exists. In addition, three precinct lines need to be changed so that they are consistent with new residential development. One precinct line split a residential development so that residents had to vote in two separate locations.  

Furthermore, during the review, the Elections Department discovered certain addresses that had been listed in the wrong precinct or ward due to past legislation.

Following the 1990 census, the Massachusetts State Legislature found it necessary to balance population in districts by drawing congressional, representative and senatorial district lines using U.S. Census Voting Tabulation Districts ("VTDs") rather than existing municipal precinct lines. After the redistricting process was complete, it became apparent that, in some cases, there were discrepancies between the VTD lines and the existing municipal precinct lines, creating what were referred to as "hidden split precincts" in the City of Boston. Addresses that were located in a VTD and thus a particular district under the legislation were located in a different district on city maps.  

In order for city maps to be consistent with the newly created congressional, representative and senatorial districts, the City was required to move certain addresses from one precinct to another in the same ward, and, in some cases, from one ward and precinct to another ward and precinct. It appears that these changes were made administratively and not by a special act of the legislature (for ward line changes) or by vote of the Board of Election Commissioners (for precinct line changes). As a result, the legal descriptions of wards and precincts maintained by the City did not change. Voters, however, were assigned to their new wards and precincts and have been voting in those locations ever since.  

After the 2000 census, the Legislature started a new redistricting process which only referenced wards and precinct boundaries rather than VTDs.  As a result, congressional, representative and senatorial districts were created in 2002 using original ward and precinct lines. At that point, the administrative changes made by the City in 1992 were obsolete, because the hidden split changes that were created by the 1992 legislation no longer existed.

In consultation with the Secretary of State's office, the City has determined that, absent proof of legal authority, the City's original designation of wards and precincts must govern. Therefore, the City now needs to move those addresses back to their proper ward and precinct assignments, in keeping with the City's official descriptions.

The Elections Department will be reaching out to all impacted addresses in the coming weeks to ensure that all voters are notified before the March 1 federal primary. Once the changes are approved by the state, they will be uploaded to the voter database and available to voters online.