Uneven growth creates redistricting challenge across state

Massachusetts grew by enough people over the past decade to keep all its nine US House seats as the state’s population climbed to more than 7 million over the past decade, but Secretary of State William Galvin said on Monday that the process of redrawing Congressional districts still will be challenging.

The US Census Bureau released state population totals and Congressional apportionment data on Monday, giving state officials an early glimpse of what might be in store this year as they wait for more specific community-level counts later in the summer. The population totals govern not just how many seats in Congress a state has, but also how trillions of dollars in federal formula funding gets allocated.

The 2020 Census effort, which was rife with political and pandemic challenges, counted 7,029,917 people living in Massachusetts, a 7.4 percent increase over the past decade that outpaced the 4.1 percent average in the Northeast and equaled the growth rate of the country as a whole.
The state may have avoided a fate similar to 10 years ago when it lost a seat, but the growth likely means that western Massachusetts districts represented by US Reps Richard Neal and Jim McGovern may need to be expanded to grab more population, while the footprint of eastern districts close to Boston may need to shrink or shift west, Galvin said.

That task will fall to Assistant House Majority Michael Moran and Senate President Pro Tempore William Brownsberger, who are leading the redistricting effort this year as chairs of the Special Committee on Redistricting.

The committee is planning a minimum of 10 hearings between now and August, including events in each of the nine districts, to solicit input. Additional hearings will be held after maps are released.

“Today is good news for Massachusetts. Ten years ago we lost a seat in Congress and we lost the influence it provided. Today we know that we will not lose a seat and we will not lose an electoral vote,” Galvin said after the data was released.

Massachusetts did not crack the top 10 of states next in line to gain a seat, but recent redistricting efforts have demonstrated that it doesn’t take gaining or losing a seat to cause disruptions in the political status quo.

In 2011, former US Rep. John Olver opted to retire rather than have his western Massachusetts district redrawn to include another member of the delegation. US Rep. Barney Frank didn’t face the prospect of running against one of his colleagues, but he, too, opted to retire rather than campaign in a newly configured district that no longer included New Bedford.

And US Rep. William Keating, who represents the Cape and southeastern Massachusetts, moved his full-time residence from Quincy to Bourne in order to avoid a showdown with Lynch.

Members of the current delegation similarly could see their districts reshaped to include new communities, and depending on where the state’s population growth occurred, they could even wind up drawn into the same district as a colleague.

Galvin said it will be important for Moran, who also helped lead the 2011 redistricting effort, and Brownsberger to retain the 7th District’s majority-minority status.