In less than two weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau is expected to release detailed population data for Massachusetts that will set off a scramble to begin redrawing the political boundaries for federal, state and local elected offices that will shape the 2022 elections.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, in an effort to help local and city and town officials prepare for that task, has been working with municipalities to identify potential shifts in population based on real estate development and other factors over the past 10 years.
Galvin's office has gone so far as to present communities with sample maps showing existing precinct lines and how those boundaries could be changed based on population estimates available ahead of the official release of Census data. The effort is an attempt to help local leaders start to think about the decisions they will have to make quickly, his office said.
The secretary's involvement, however, has inflamed lingering tensions on Beacon Hill with legislative Democrats who earlier this summer chafed at Galvin's suggestion that lawmakers were trying to rewrite the rules of redistricting to protect incumbents.
One draft map in particular, given to the city of Springfield and described by multiple people to the News Service, would put freshman Rep. Orlando Ramos in a precinct currently represented by Rep. Bud Williams.
Rep. Michael Moran, the assistant House majority leader and co-chair of the Special Committee on Redistricting, said this either would require an adjustment to William's 11th Hampden district or force two of the House's 14 Black and Hispanic members to run against each other.
"That just shows me how little the secretary's office is paying attention to things like maximizing minority representation in the map-making process and that is a principle we strongly pushed 10 years ago and it's a principle we are strongly looking at this time as well," Moran said.
Moran and Galvin come from the same Brighton neighborhood of Boston, but have often butted heads over redistricting.
After the 2010 Census, the Legislature redrew district lines to create 20 majority-minority districts in the House and three in the Senate. It has been estimated by Lawyers for Civil Rights that as many as five more House districts and one Senate district became majority-minority over the last decade due to population growth.
While Moran said he would seek to avoid putting Ramos and Williams in the same district when the Legislature draws the maps, he said he's worried that cities and towns without the resources to dig into redistricting data will look at maps shared with them by Galvin and trust that the secretary has considered things like minority representation.
"I think the secretary has every right to assist the clerks in this process, but we are under a very difficult timeframe here and maybe in doing so he should use the principles that we outlined in the redistricting process 10 years ago and this time around," Moran said.
He added, "I would hope they would maybe call them all back and take another look at them."
In Springfield, Ramos currently lives on Woodrow Street in Ward 8 Precinct B. Williams lives a little more than three miles away on Overlook Terrace in Ward 7 Precinct A.
Under the sample map shown by Galvin's office to Springfield officials and described to the News Service by multiple officials, Ramos would be moved into precinct 7A, which is currently represented by Williams, while Williams would find himself in Ward 5 Precinct E, which is also currently in his district.
Springfield City Clerk Gladys Oyola-Lopez did not return a call or email seeking comment.
Galvin's office pointed out that the two precincts, while currently both in William's 11th Hampden District, are not adjacent. Even if the city council were to approve the lines as proposed, the secretary's office noted it would be up to the Legislature to decide which precincts were included in which House districts.
"This is a desperate effort to manufacture a controversy where none exists," Galvin said. "We are fighting for local control over the drawing of precinct lines, because local officials are the ones who best know where lines should be drawn to expand the power of local minority communities and ensure that their voices are heard."
Moran acknowledged that the Legislature has final say over House and Senate district boundaries, but he said Galvin's maps could cause unnecessary anxiety and complications if they were to be adopted before the legislative districts are complete.
In a normal redistricting year, municipalities would have been required to complete the reprecincting process by June 15 and those precincts would be used as the primary building blocks for legislative and Congressional districts.
Because the Census data has been delayed, the House and Senate have both passed bills that would eliminate the now passed deadline for reprecincting, and call for the Legislature to redraw Congressional and state legislative districts first using Census blocks and tracts.
That legislation is still being negotiated between the two branches.
Many voting rights groups supported the change, but Galvin opposed the switch and described it is an unnecessary attempt by the Legislature to seize control of the process to protect incumbents. Galvin sits on the Local Election District Review Commission, which must approve all new municipal precinct maps.
Williams said he had not heard about the suggested map received by Springfield that would relocate Ramos into a precinct he currently represents. "But if I did I would ignore it. That doesn't mean a hill of beans," he said.
The vice chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus said Galvin was "way out of order" for getting so far ahead of the process.
"I'm not governed by Secretary Galvin. At the end of the day, it's the House and Senate that are going to draw the lines," Williams said. "We have a redistricting process and we're still gathering input. We don't have any officials numbers yet, so it's premature to start that debate."
Ramos said he was aware of the map shared with Springfield officials, but was confident that the House would not seek to draw him into a district that would pit himself against an incumbent like Williams.
"It's very concerning, especially because the 9th Hampden is a majority minority district and I know it's a priority of the commonwealth in general to ensure those majority minority districts are protected because we already don't have enough representation in the Legislature," Ramos said.
Ramos represents a district in Springfield that up until his predecessor, Jose Tosado, won the seat had been represented by a series of white men.
"For anyone to entertain that idea is a insult to people of color everywhere and definitely not an equitable way to draw district lines," Ramos said. "We should be attempting to increase the numbers of legislators who are of color, not decreasing."