A recent diary covered the Boston City Council redistricting fracas, arguing that the plan the council narrowly adopted dilutes minority voting power. The data does not support this conclusion. The changes are relatively minor and do not affect the overall racial balance of the districts.
You can see the new and old districts here:
Only 12 precincts move between districts, mostly to accommodate uneven population growth.
Nor do the new lines strengthen Councilor Linehan as much as they could, for whose benefit critics say the changes were made. For those of you who don’t know, Linehan won reelection extremely narrowly last November, with Suzanne Lee, his opponent, winning overwhelming in Chinatown and the South End and Linehan just making up for with a more than 2-1 margin of victory in Southie.
Here are the results in the precincts that are removed from the district:
4-3 197 Lee – 40 Linehan
7-7 87 Lee – 101 Linehan
7-8 64 Lee – 123 Linehan
7-9 69 Lee – 109 Linehan
9-1 275 Lee – 63 Linehan
Total: 692 Lee – 436 Linehan
As you can see, while the two South End precincts were excellent for Lee the other three were Linehan territory. If the map really wanted to shore him up, it could have kept them and shifted more of the South End to District 7.
Nevertheless, the new map is unfair to Boston’s minority voters, for a simpler reason: The old map was unfair and its boundaries are perpetuated. In particular, districts 3, 4 and 5 represent a classic “packing and cracking” scheme to give Black voters in Dorchester and Mattapan one councilor when their numbers are large enough to elect two.
Here are the current demographics of the council districts. All racial stats are Voting Age Population. Racial groups with less than 10% are excluded. Ethnicity of each councilor is guessed from surname, in most cases.
Population: 73k - 62% White 28% Hispanic
Councilor: Sal LaMattina (Italian)
Population: 74k - 68% White 15% Asian
Councilor: Bill Linehan (Irish)
Population: 61k - 39% White 27% Black 15% Asian 11% Hispanic
Councilor: Frank Baker (Anglo)
Population 61k - 70% Black 19% Hispanic
Councilor: Charles Yancey (Black)
Population 64k - 40% Black 35% White 20% Hispanic
Councilor: Rob Consalvo (Italian)
Population 67k - 69% White 14% Hispanic
Councilor: Matt O’Malley (Irish)
Population 73k - 38% Black 29% White 20% Hispanic
Councilor: Tito Jackson (Black)
Population 73k - 68% White 15% Asian
Councilor: Mike Ross (Jewish) (Thanks to sethjp for the correction)
Population 72k – 68% White 15% Asian
Councilor: Mark Ciommo (Italian)
The important thing to note is that minorities have lower participation rates in local elections than whites.
Here is one potential solution that I sketched out quickly in Dave’s Redistricting App. It creates three minority districts and a South End/Chinatown/Lower Roxbury district that could potentially elect a minority.
Here are the demographics of this proposal, again using voting age population:
District 1 (Blue) – 60% White 30% Hispanic
District 2 (Green) – 75% White
District 3 (Purple) – 43% Black 26% Hispanic 15% White
District 4 (Red) – 52% Black 21% Hispanic 18% White
District 5 (Gold) – 56% Black 23% White 15% Hispanic
District 6 (Teal) – 74% White 10% Hispanic
District 7 (Gray) – 45% White 20% Black 16% Asian 14% Hispanic
District 8 (Periwinkle) 70% White 14% Asian
District 9 (Cyan) 68% White 15% Asian
While these lines are just a proof of concept, something similar is probably required under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Given Boston’s history of racial animosity and use of Gerrymandering to minimize minority voting power, we should not allow the current council lines to remain. The council’s changes are only minor tweaks, when a whole scale redrawing is needed.