Haverhill urged swift action on electoral changes |
HAVERHILL – A group of civil rights lawyers in Boston say the city is not moving fast enough or doing enough to change its decades-old general electoral system, demanding more district representation and less representation general than what is proposed.
The group argues that it was neither necessary nor appropriate to put the issue to a popular vote, but lawyers are happy that voters’ decisions on two ballot issues last week appear to guarantee a change.
Voters in Haverhill approved the two soft-ballot questions that asked whether they wanted the city to change its form of representation from the current city council and school committee in general to a combination of general and district representation.
Question 1, passed 5,548 to 2,999, asked voters for their views on increasing the size of the city council from nine to 11 members, with four elected officials and seven district councilors. They would continue to serve two-year terms.
Question 2, approved 5,410 to 2,996, asked voters for their opinion on increasing the size of the school committee from six members with the mayor as president to nine, with five elected per district or neighborhood, and three members at large. , plus the mayor as president. The question would also change the terms from four years to two.
Since the two questions were not binding, they served only for advisory purposes to the board.
Civil rights lawyers have threatened to take the city to vote for the right to vote if it does not voluntarily change its decades-old general electoral system to a mixed system of district and general representation.
In a letter to Mayor James Fiorentini sent in July, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said that on behalf of minority voters led by Haverhill’s Latin American Coalition, electoral change is needed to ensure the city’s compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act.
In a letter sent to the city council and the mayor on Monday, Oren Sellstrom, director of litigation for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said his group believed the best alternative to comply with the voting rights law was for the council to be composed of seven districts and two to -the great councilors.
The school committee should be made up of seven district members and one regular member, plus the mayor serving as chair.
“This alternative would align the two systems so that each would have seven district representatives and two general representatives,” Sellstrom said. “This would reflect the will of the voters, who have expressed a clear desire for the city to move away from a generalized system, while complying with the VRA and minimizing voter confusion and administrative problems.”
Sellstom said the city is expected to approve and send a self-reliance petition to the legislature requesting approval of this setup by the end of the year. A home rule petition, if approved, would allow the city to change its charter regarding city council and school committee representation.
“This timeline would not only maintain a forward trajectory, but would also allow the city to coordinate these local changes with the redefinition process that is currently underway due to the release of the 2020 census data and the redistribution to the state level, ”he said.
Fiorentini said he disagreed with Sellstom’s assertion that there was no need to submit voting questions to voters.
“It is a democracy and the public should have had the opportunity to vote and they did,” he said. “The board did well to put it on the ballot. “
Fiorentini said voters in Haverhill have expressed support for district or neighborhood representation and he would like to proceed as quickly as possible as he has also supported the idea and has been pushing for change for years.
“I should study whatever they want,” Fiorentini said of civil rights lawyers. “We are going to file a petition on the rules of procedure, but whether it will be amended or not, I do not know yet. I’m leaning towards the hybrid model, because I think the school committee version needs some tweaking.
Haverhill is one of the few communities in Massachusetts that have yet to adopt a system for electing ward councilors. Lawrence and Methuen both have wards or districts, as do Gloucester, Amesbury, Newburyport and Salem.