By Sarah Marshall
Using local data gathered during the 2020 census, Amherst recently developed and adopted a new map of voting precincts and districts. Interestingly, while 81% of voters remain in the same precinct (renumbered, perhaps), only 61% remain in the same district.
The most significant changes to boundaries occurred near the center of town, with Districts 3 and 4 redrawn such that all four of their current Town Councilors – Dorothy Pam, Jennifer Taub, Anika Lopes, and Pam Rooney – reside in the new District 4. When voters go to the polls in November of 2023 (possibly earlier if primaries are needed), no incumbents will be on the District 3 ballot, while four may appear on the District 4 ballot if all four seek reelection.
Until then, all Councilors represent the districts as they existed last November. But voters in the new District 3, at least, may want to begin evaluating whether they or their neighbors want to become candidates for the two open seats.
All residents should check their new precinct and district assignments. The annual town census, recently mailed to all residents, includes a tear-off notice at the bottom, such as the one my family received, shown below.
If you missed that attachment to the annual census, you can check your precinct and district by looking up your street and house number here. Note that some precincts have new designations; for example, my Precinct 9 has been renamed Precinct 4A, as shown in the map above. Some polling locations have changed as well. If a debt exclusion override for a new elementary school is put to voters a year from now, we will vote at these updated polling places.
Why were these changes made? State law requires “reprecincting” after every decennial census. Last summer, an Amherst District Advisory Board (DAB) was appointed and met weekly to analyze the census data and explore different map options. Given the strict requirements, the DAB put forward only one compliant map to the Town Council last October. You can read the DAB’s report and view the presentation to Council.
Demographic changes since 2010 and other data, such as voting activity, that drove the reprecincting effort included:
- An increase in Amherst’s population,
- Shifts in where people reside, including increases in downtown Amherst and at the University and some decreases elsewhere,
- Extreme differences in population density across town, with about 40% of the population living in 2% of the land area,
- High variability in the number of active voters across census blocks.
Potential maps also had to meet state requirements, such as:
- No precinct could include more than 4,000 residents,
- Populations of precincts could not vary by more than 5% of the average,
- Precincts and districts should be as compact as possible,
- Minority voting strength must not be diluted
One of the DAB’s goals was to avoid clustering dormitories and other student-heavy areas primarily into two districts, since the differences in student voting behavior create large imbalances in voter strength across districts. For example, in last November’s election, turnout in Precinct 10 (District 3) was 20%, whereas turnout in Precinct 8 (District 5), was 44%. The minimum number of votes to win a contested Council seat in District 3 last year was 191, versus 475 in District 4. In contrast, more than 1,100 people voted for each of two unopposed candidates in District 5.
In the new map, District 4 runs mainly east-west rather than north-south, capturing more of the student population. District 3 now covers a much larger area to the south, capturing some of the previous District 4 and District 5. District 1 has lost some of its southern end to District 2 and gained some of District 2’s territory to the northeast. Finally, District 5 is now enormous, geographically, and includes both southeast Amherst and part of downtown. The center of Amherst is now split between Districts 4 and 5 rather than Districts 3 and 4. Future Councilors from District 5 will need to address both “rural” and “urban” priorities.
For comparison, here is the former map, in effect last fall.
FYI, District 3 Councilors are holding a meeting for constituents this weekend. See On our radar for details.