Redistricting is the practice of redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts within the state to more accurately reflect population changes and better represent the population as a whole. Periodic redistricting is essential, since population demographics change over time, and these changes should be reflected in electoral districts.
However, legislators have historically used redistricting as a political tool to redraw their districts in such a way as to gain political advantage during elections. This sort of illegal manipulation is called “gerrymandering,” a term originally coined in Massachusetts, and is an obstacle to fair elections and representative democracy.
Redistricting Success 2010-2012
With the help of Common Cause and others, the Massachusetts State Legislature engaged in most open, transparent, and principled redistricting process ever in Massachusetts in 2010-2012.
The Joint Committee on Redistricting released the maps with an unprecedented two-week comment period, created an informative and interactive website which gave citizens the tools to create maps, held hearings attended by over 3,000 citizens and, most importantly, released maps that were more compact, preserved communities, and provided better minority representation than they had before. The Center for Public Integrity gave Massachusetts redistricting process an "A" grade for openness and transparency.
Privately, some committee members acknowledge the pressure and interest that Common Cause built over the years as a key factor in this success.
Common Cause's Role in Redistricting
During 2001 redistricting, there was evidence of gerrymandering to reduce the power of some minority voters in Massachusetts. When House Speaker Tom Finneran lied under oath about his role in the racial gerrymandering, Common Cause pressure led to his federal indictment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and, ultimately, his conviction and removal from office.
Meanwhile, Common Cause started Massachusetts on the path to better representation in the summer and fall of 2004 with advisory ballot questions in a number of House districts around the Commonwealth. These questions asked voters if they supported a redistricting process conducted by an independent redistricting commission, not current state legislators. All of the ballot questions passed overwhelmingly with an average of two-thirds of the vote.
Then, in 2005, Common Cause led a petition initiative to put the independent redistricting commission legislation on the statewide ballot. We fell short by a mere 6,000 votes (out of 66,000). But the campaign still bore fruit.
Because of the campaign for an independent redistricting commission and the lawsuit challenging the 2001 redistricting maps, the Redistricting Committee in 2011 felt under the gun to conduct a process that was open, transparent, and produced maps that followed strict legal criteria.