It soon will be that time again. M.G.L. c.54, §6 states that “[i]n the year 2001 and every tenth year thereafter”, the Select Board of every town of more than 6,200 or more inhabitants or a town having precincts must divide the town into convenient voting precincts. The statute outlines various requirements for establishing the precincts:
Precincts must be composed of compact and contiguous territory.
The center line of streets or ways, or other well-defined limits that constitute block boundaries recognized by the US Bureau of the Census, should be used to divide precincts.
Precincts must be designated by numbers or letter.
Precincts must contain, as nearly as may be, an equal number of inhabitants, but not more than four thousand inhabitants.
The statute directs the Select Board to divide the Town into precincts no later than June 15 of each year and directs the Local Election District Commission to make such division if a Town fails to divide the precincts by August 26.
However, due to COVID, the federal government announced that it would not release the census data by March 31, 2021 (as required), but rather would do so by September 30, 2021. Practically speaking this means that communities cannot comply with the deadlines outlined in Chapter 54. Therefore, Michelle Tassinari, the Director and Legal Counsel to the Elections Division, advises communities to take the following actions:
Now: Estimated census data are currently available. Communities should start planning now based on these figures. The Elections Division is willing to help any Town with this process.
August 16: The federal government will distribute "legacy files" to the states with more detailed census data. Ms. Tassinari believes that these files will contain very accurate data. Towns should use these figures and make any necessary tweaks to their precinct mapping.
September 30: The federal government will issue the final census figures.
By October 29: Select Board must vote to accept the new precincts. Within 7 days of the Select Board’s vote, the Town Clerk must submit a copy of the division, together with an official precinct map and a statement by the Select Board of the number of inhabitants in each precinct, to the Secretary of State for final review.
Upon receipt, the Secretary must transmit the information to the Local Election District Review Commission. The Commission has 35 days to notify the Town if it believes the precincts established conflict with state law or are of questionable constitutionality. If so notified, the Select Board has 49 days from the date the Town Clerk originally transmitted the data to make any changes. The Commission is directed to make the division for any Town that fails to comply on time or it may appoint a master to make the division.
Cities are also required to reevaluate their wards and precincts every ten years and also have a June 15, 2021 statutory deadline. M.G.L. c.54, §§1, 2. However, the process for Cities differs from those governing Towns, as outlined in M.G.L. c.54, §1.