By Bob Katzen
The Election Laws Committee held a hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a seven-member redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts legislative and congressional districts every 10 years. The plan then would be submitted to the Legislature, which would vote it up or down. The amendment would replace current law which allows the Legislature itself to draw the districts.
The proposed commission would include a dean or professor of law, political science or government from a Massachusetts college, appointed by the governor; a retired judge, appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil rights law, appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the above three members from a list of candidates nominated by the House Speaker, House Minority Leader, Senate President and Senate Minority Leader.
The proposal requires the commission to follow specific rules, including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of any group based on race, ethnicity, language, minority status or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a political party or any individual.
The commission also would be required to attempt to follow other guidelines, including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district.
Sponsor Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) said current law allowing the Legislature itself to redraw districts leads to concerns over the objectivity and transparency of the redistricting process.
“This issue has recently gained national attention because of the allegations against Republican-controlled state Legislatures ‘gerrymandering’ districts to disproportionately benefit Republicans,” said Eldridge. “Although Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers of our state Legislature, Massachusetts should be a leader on objective, transparent and equitable redistricting procedures.”