Assigning voting districts is all about smoothing out “protruding fingers,” “long tails” and other oddly shaped geographical boundaries that crop up over time as the population changes, all the while maintaining sensible delineations.
The Board of Selectmen approved a plan on Tuesday to redistrict Danvers’ eight voting precincts, effective January 2012. Overall, only about 25 percent of voters will be affected (based on a rough estimate from town officials) and end up voting in a new precinct at the polls next year.
“We tried to keep it as non-political as possible,” Town Clerk Joseph Collins told selectmen. “We tried to come up with reasonable boundaries.”
Another change in store by redrawing the precinct lines is that all Town Meeting members will be up for re-election in 2012. And not only that, the total number of Town Meeting members may increase from 15 to 18 per precinct in order to fairly and evenly represent all registered voters in town.
There are now 17,832, as of the April deadline for this past Town Election.
With the results of the 2010 U.S. Census in hand – a 4.8 percent population growth in Danvers – town election officials were tasked with redrawing the precinct lines to conform to state guidelines, smoothing precinct boundaries and creating contiguous districts.
Collins said he and Assistant Town Clerk Kathleen Woytovich spent many an hour working with the secretary of state’s Local Election District Review Commission to craft the new map.
One of the guidelines they were faced with is that no precinct may exceed 4,000 residents.
Collins said that with 26,493 residents identified in the new census, the average precinct size is 3,312 residents. Each precinct must also be within 5 percent plus or minus of that average, which put certain precincts outside that range without an adjustment.
What that looks like in some of the largest areas of change is that everyone in Precinct 8 (the Hathorne neighborhood) who lives on the eastern side of Route 1 will now be split up between precincts 2, 7 and 4, as they are geographically laid out. A portion of Precinct 2 will now be in Precinct 1 and a large section of that district will now be Precinct 3. The last larger section to change is much of the Folly Hill area along the Beverly line, which will now be Precinct 5.
Precinct 8 saw the largest percentage of growth (4.44 percent), while Precinct 3 saw the biggest drop (4.65 percent).
[Editor’s Note: To see specific details on the boundaries of each precinct, click on the attached map in .pdf format and zoom in. The thick, bold lines indicate the old boundaries, whereas the new precincts are color-coded. You can also find the map in greater detail on the town Web site under Town Clerk’s department page and the link “Voter Registration & Elections.”]
Another requirement for precincts is that they must include whole census blocks, said Collins.
Census blocks themselves, may appear oddly constructed, however, and are formed as much as possible along existing geographic features, such as streets, housing blocks, ponds, or even an old rail bed. In any case, the town must leave the census blocks intact. If the population significantly grows within a census block, the precinct boundary would need to expand or contract, based on the change.
“It’s not an exact science, but it’s the deck of cards we’ve been dealt,” Collins told selectmen.