By Beth Treffeisen
The Boston City Council held a hearing on Feb. 23, to discuss the Boston’s Elections Department proposal to subdivide current precincts to decrease voting lines and increase voter access to the polls. While two polling places in Chinatown and Bay Village will be changing, there will be no polling location changes in Beacon Hill.
The Elections Department is looking at creating even further subdivides within precincts in order to create more polling locations. Changes to the lines of the precincts and districts will not occur within this home rule petition.
Dion Irish, commissioner of Boston’s Elections Department, hopes to get this done in time for the upcoming municipal election in 2017 because it will not have early voting. In 2018, early voting will return.
Irish pointed out that there are 255 precincts in Boston but they have been largely unchanged within the past 50 years. The largest precinct (Ward 3, Precinct 8, in Chinatown) has over 6,000 registered voters, while the smallest (Ward 8, Precinct 6 near South Bay) has just fewer than 500 voters.
“We need to take long-term steps but also short term measures like these to make sure voters don’t have long wait times,” said Irish.
In the long term, Irish said they are looking forward at the 2020 census to see how they can re-precinct to better equalize the numbers.
“After this, that’s our last line of business is working on re-precincting in 2020,” said Irish.
The sub-divides were based off the current population count as well as the projected population in the years to come with new developments coming down the line that might add to it.
The proposed six largest precincts include Ward 3, Precinct 6 in Downtown, Ward 3 Precinct 7, in the South End, Ward 3, Precinct 8 in Chinatown, Ward 5, Precinct 1 in the Bay Village and Chinatown, Ward 6, Precinct 1 in the Seaport, Fort Point, and South Boston and Ward 9, Precinct 3 in the South End and Lower Roxbury.
It is still up in the air as to where the new polling locations will go but the Elections Department has been reaching out to the community to figure out the most convenient spots. Potential locations include District Hall in South Boston, the Oak Square YMCA, the Quincy Towers and the Mass Pike Towers in Chinatown.
They will notify the public of any change in polling location at least 20 days prior to the next election through the mail, local newspapers, and social media.
City Councilor Matt O’ Malley of District 6, pointed out polling locations within his own neighborhoods Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury that also have long lines at the polls.
Irish said that the six that they chose particularly stood out.
“We wanted to cause the minimum amount of confusion,” said Irish. “But it means more staff and also costs more money.”
Irish said they are looking at other methods that wouldn’t require this process such as creating better configurations at polling locations and possibly splitting books.
Irish said, “Voter access and equal opportunities is very important to the Elections Department.”
This home rule petition might be brought up for a vote at the next Boston City Council hearing on March 1. If passed, it would then move to the state legislature to make the final decision.