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Fair or foul? A closer look at reprecincting options; town updates maps

UPDATED, Oct. 1: Don Seltzer, an Arlington resident for 49 years and a retired engineer, presented the following fact-based column about the town's effort to change precincts. The numbers he used are based entirely on the official 2020 census data, released Aug. 12. See a link at the end to the author's public comments Sept. 22. On Oct. 1, the town announced it has updated its draft maps here >>

Reprecincting logo

With the release of the 2020 U.S. census data, Arlington is required to adjust voter precinct districts to ensure that residents are fairly represented through equal sized precincts. For Arlington, our 21 precincts must fall within a narrow 10-percent band.

Sixteen of our current precincts are within this band, while three precincts (5, 8, 16) are too small, and two precincts (15, 17) are too large. Various options exist for rebalancing by redrawing the boundaries of as few as nine precincts while leaving the other 12 unchanged.

The town clerk’s office has drawn up two new precinct maps for public comment, one for 21 precincts and 252 Town Meeting members, and another version for a reduced 16 precincts and 240 Town Meeting members
How well does the 21-precinct option work for East Arlington, Precincts 1 through 7?

1 E. Arlington precinct out of balance

Only a single precinct in East Arlington is out of balance according to the new census data. Precinct 5 is just 27 residents short of the required minimum. That can easily be corrected by shifting the boundary with Precinct 7 to include a small block at the Broadway-Warren Street triangle. This would bring all of East Arlington into balance. No adjustments are needed for any other precincts, and there is no need for all of the Town Meeting members to run for reelection next year.

The new map drawn up by the clerk’s office and a committee of four town employees unnecessarily turns all of East Arlington upside down, making major changes to precinct boundaries and requiring every Town Meeting member to run again for reelection next year.

My comparison is with the town-generated map for 21 precincts

And the proposed new map does not comply with fair representation, the whole point of the census-driven reprecincting. Four of the seven precincts do not have the legally required number of residents. The new Precinct 18 (replacing the current Precinct 6) falls nearly 400 residents short of the required number. It may also run afoul of state rules for continuity of districts.

'Flawed argument'

It is a similar story with the rest of Arlington. The information presentation posted online incorrectly implies that at least 19 of our precincts need to be redrawn, leading to the flawed argument that all 21 should be redrawn for equity. This is simply not the case. There exist options in which:

  • More than 98 percent of Arlington residents remain in their current precinct.
  • Nine precincts will have adjustments to their boundaries, most very slight.
  • Twelve precincts will remain unchanged.
  • Of those residents affected by changing boundaries, more than 25 percent will continue to vote at their same poll location.
  • Nearly two-thirds of those affected will vote at a new location much closer to their home, generally within walking distance.
  • Less than 10 percent of those affected will have a slightly longer drive to their new polling location (about 500 feet).
'Not transparent' about criteria

The committee of four town employees who drew up this map have not been transparent in providing the public with the criteria that went into shifting current precinct lines other than to make vague claims of fairness and equity. I have asked exactly what data the town committee used and have gotten vague responses, suggesting that those involved at Town Hall are still waiting or only have just gotten the official data from the state.

I have asked directly for their population totals for each precinct so that I could compare and determine the reason for any differences. The Committee response in a Sept. 27 email: “We can't answer individual questions.”

Seltzer's Sept. 22 presentation >>

Sept. 26, 2021: What do you think about plans for precinct changes?


This viewpoint was published Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, and updated to add a link to the Sept. 22 presentation. It was updated Oct. 1, to add a link to updated town maps.

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