Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

September 12, 2013

Town seeking to tweak precinct lines

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@andovertownsman.com

---- — Town Clerk Larry Murphy heads to the Statehouse next week to testify before the joint Committee on Election Laws in an effort to amend the town’s precinct lines.

When the state’s Congressional district lines were redrawn following the 2010 federal census, Andover was split, with some precincts landing in Lowell Rep. Niki Tsongas’ district and the remainder in Salem Rep. John Tierney’s territory.

The lines were re-drawn in an effort to reach population parity of 728,849 people per district after Massachusetts lost one Congressional seat because the state’s population had dropped relative to other states, where the numbers rose.

The new precinct lines have caused confusion for town election officials as well as residents in two, new sub-precincts.

Two of the town’s precincts were split and placed in separate Congressional districts: Precinct 7, located in the southern part of town bordering Wilmington and North Reading, and Precinct 9, in the center of town.

Murphy wants to restore Precinct 7 to one, complete district, which would mean eliminating the new Precinct 7a. He said 7a is home to 723 residents, of which 500 are active voters. The change in 7a is needed to make things more consistent for poll workers and voters.

Meanwhile, he hopes to take a similar approach to Precinct 9a, which has only 22 residents and 14 active voters on two streets, which were moved into Tierney’s district. Murphy wants to bring that precinct back into Tsongas’ district as well.

The problem in 9a is that there are so few voters — only 1 person voted in the September 2012 state primary, for example — that anyone who cares to look can identify that voter by name and address based on the ballot he or she pulled, Murphy said.

“The point with 9a is voter privacy,” he said.

He said if the changes are made, the population deviation would be 1/10th of 1 percent.

“It would make it easier and save administrative time and costs as well as confusion for voters,” he said. “Usually districts are major landmarks. These are drawn on side streets.”

Murphy filed legislation with Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, who is co-chairman of the joint Committee on Election Laws, and Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, calling for the lines to be re-drawn. The committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. at the Statehouse.

He has the support of selectmen and other town officials who said during a recent meeting that the lines as drawn make no sense.

“This creates havoc for the citizens,” selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said.