We are the Massachusetts Coalition Against Gerrymandering (MASSCAG). It is our hope to build a fairer Massachusetts by replacing the practice of gerrymandering by implementing California-Style Independent Redistricting. To better understand this process, we have created a guide that answers some questions that folks may have.
What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one party over another.
Legislative districts are the groups of towns and cities from which your local Representatives and Senators to your state Legislature are elected. The same applies for your Representatives to Congress in Washington D.C. (U.S Senators represent their entire states, and therefore the practice of gerrymandering does not apply.)
The 14th Middlesex District of Massachusetts is pictured below. (Example of a State Representative’s district.
What is Wrong with Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is undemocratic because it splits voters into groups based on what may be best for the legislators currently in power, rather than what is best for the people. This creates a problem where the legislators choose their voters, rather than the voters choosing their legislators.
Gerrymandering makes it much harder for the party not in power to win a majority of the seats in the Legislature, even if they get the majority of the vote. Politicians are then forced to pander exclusively to their base and avoid compromise, or risk the threat of a primary challenge.
Gerrymandering often involves using data on the voting patterns of certain areas and voters, to draw districts which consistently elect legislators of a specific party. These “gerrymandered” districts then make it more difficult for candidates from other parties to be elected
A simplified example of this process is pictured below.
Drawing districts unfairly also incentivizes partisanship, and discourages compromise, because politicians no longer find it necessary to represent everyone when they can consistently win with just a loyal base.
Gerrymandering can create district lines that ignore areas with a common interest, such as a town or city. When this occurs, important issues that affect the municipality as a whole may be underrepresented, because the “pieces” of the municipality may be of minor importance to the other areas of the larger district.
Take the 14th Middlesex district for example. The needs of Concord and Carlisle may be similar to each other, yet distinct from the needs of the area of Chelmsford which is also included within the district. As Concord and Carlisle make up the majority of votes in district, there is a strong incentive for the State Representative to prioritize the interests of Concord and Carlisle over those of Chelmsford.
Since the 2000 redistricting, none of the “pieces” of Chelmsford make up the majority of the vote in any of the four districts that the town has been divided into. The same dynamic holds true for every Representative elected to represent Chelmsford, diminishing the ability of Chelmsford voters to receive equitable representation of their needs in contrast with the rest of the district, This scenario remains problematic regardless of the party affiliation of the elected Representative.
While a good legislator will always attempt to represent each constituent to the best of their ability, the current districting system incentivizes minimal representation of the overall district in favor of a smaller, loyal, partisan base.
In order to fix these problems, we must first understand the process of how these districts are drawn.
How Are Districts Drawn?
Each state has control over the way they draw their districts. Currently, as mandated by the state Constitution, districts in Massachusetts are drawn by a committee of legislators allowing the party in power to draw the maps as they see fit. Even amongst legislators attempting to be impartial, the district lines tend to be biased in favor of their own party, and result in a gerrymandered map. To fix this, we want to implement California-Style Independent Redistricting in Massachusetts.
What is California-Style Independent Redistricting?
California-Style Independent Redistricting takes the usual redistricting process that goes through the State House, and replaces it with an Independent Citizens Commission, comprised of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 members of neither major party. This commission holds hearings around the state and attempts to determine which are "Communities of Interest", that share common needs and resources. The districts can then be drawn to better represent the needs of the people, rather than what is politically convenient for the legislators currently in office.
How do we change redistricting in Massachusetts?
In order to implement Independent Redistricting, we need to change the Massachusetts State Constitution. This is a process that comes in four parts, over four years.
Year One: Building Up & Gathering Signatures
We need to build up our campaign infrastructure and mobilize volunteers so we can get our measure in front of the State Legislature.
Come September, we can start gathering signatures. We will need 3% of the total vote cast for all candidates for Governor during the last election. That amounts to 80,239 Certified signatures. (So, that many, plus a buffer should any of the signatures be illegible or wrong.) Of those 80,239, no more than 25% of the total (20,060) can come from any one county, so we will need a robust base of volunteers and supporters to get over this first hurdle.
Once we have gathered these signatures and they have been certified and submitted, we can lay our petition before the State Legislature.
Year Two and Year Three: The Legislature Parts I and II
Once we have collected all the signatures and the signatures have been certified, the prop2022osed amendment to the State Constitution will be laid before a joint session of the state Legislature. In order to get on the ballot in year four, we need 25% of the state Legislature to vote in support of our measure, in two consecutive joint sessions.
The Massachusetts State Legislature has 40 Senators and 160 Representatives. Due to the nature of a joint session, any combination of Senators and Representatives are eligible to cast the 50 votes we need to move on to the second round.
In the second round, we will again 50 votes in that joint session to move onto the ballot.
Year Four: The Ballot Measure
This is the final step. Once all the signatures have been gathered, and the state Legislature has twice vast 50 votes in favor of our proposed amendment we will need to obtain a simple majority (over 50%) of the votes on the day of the general election in year four.
Depending on the resistance to reform, this will be the most intensive and expensive part of the process, and the one which will determine the fate of four years worth of efforts to secure a more representative government in Massachusetts, both at the State and Federal level.