Council moves to shrink voting lines at overstuffed precincts in some neighborhoods

The City Council today approved a request to the state legislature to let Boston create "sub-precincts" in certain crowded districts in Bay Village, Chinatown, Roxbury, Downtown, South Boston and the South End.

The proposal, if approved by Mayor Walsh, the legislature and Gov. Baker, would not change who residents get to vote for, but may change where they vote.

It's an attempt to deal with overcrowding at polling places caused by development in a city that has not redrawn its precinct lines in decades.

Councilor Bill Linehan, who represents the affected neighborhoods, and who co-sponsored the measure with Council President Michelle Wu, said some of the precincts now have more than 4,000 registered voters, which can mean particularly long lines on Election Day.



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Cut the crap

The Commonwealth should make like Oregon and move to a statewide Vote-by-Mail system. It would save a ton of money and allow greater participation in the elections.

Vote by mail is a recipe for

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Vote by mail is a recipe for fraud. If you are too disinterested to get yourself to a polling place every few years than maybe you shouldn't be voting in the first place. MA already makes it very easy to vote absentee.

Can somebody explain to me...

...why they can't simply open up more polling places to handle the larger crowds? The Channing School (Ward 18 Sunnyside) was open until a few years ago. Now everyone has to go to the JPKennedy, thus putting more pressure on it.
I see no need for "sub-precincts".
Just open more places.

polling places

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The Channing and the Grew were not handicap accessible without going to a separate entrance and passing through the school.

without going to a separate

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without going to a separate entrance and passing through the school.

In other words, still considered accessible under ADA guidelines.


But counter to the security preference to not route hundreds (or thousands) of random strangers through a school.

I am skeptical this is a real security risk, but it is the constraint that the elections department is working with.

Because ..

You can't have a precinct split up into separate locations because then how would anyone know where to vote? They'd go to either? How do you keep track of who's voted (legally and illegally, lol).?

Putting everything on tablets actually solves part of this problem because you can have multiple tables set up at each location. That would have been enough in this situation, I believe, but what do I know?

(Put another way: You pretty much answered your own question - they are opening more places ... but they need to get approval from the state in order to do so ...)


The question to me is... why haven't they redistricted in decades? I understand that a growing population would mean more people at ALL locations, but at least decennially I would have expected them to even out the load between the precincts... I know Cambridge does this.

Old traditions die hard?

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I mean, the wards are relics of the days when Boston had aldermen, but I don't really know.

Fortunately, precincts are relatively small, sort of the atoms of Boston elections, so redistricting for one man/one vote reasons can still be done.

Precincts, you mean

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They redistricted 5 years ago, a drawn out process Adam featured here. Reprecincting is what this story is referring to.

Ok sure...

So, yes, within/across the districts, equal out the ppl per precinct. My understanding is that these things are usually contemporaneous following a census... hence one catch-all term...

Voting precincts

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As the warden at a voting ward/precinct, the issue is the voting rolls and how they would need to be divided up if the ward and precinct is spread across multiple locations. Unless the city adopts the model used for the last election's early voting it would be impossible for someone in location B or C to know if the voter had already voted in location A.

Widen the bottleneck

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The polling-place process can be dramatically sped up by handing out a clipboard, golf pencil, and a sample ballot to everybody standing in line. So, when everyone gets to the booth, they only have to copy their answers instead of pondering which candidate for Sheriff to vote for.

In my experience

The bottleneck is the check-in table. This is a thorny issue that I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to solve and there are not easy/clear solutions. The problem is that check-in is the source of two slow things...

1) People have to give information in a certain order to be found in the book (tablets can speed this up some, but you still have the hurdle of people spelling their name and address in a crowded room). This is exacerbated by the fact that you hear names and addresses all day, which can make them begin to jumble together.

2) It's also the place where an issue gets noticed, including the issue of not being in the book. Each interaction where this is the case (showed up at wrong precinct, didn't register, inactive, need to show ID (only for certain rare cases) cause the folks at the checkin table to have to stop and have a conversation and rectify and/or convince the voter to go wait in another line at the Warden's table.

Speeding up either task is not trivial since both are necessary and breaking them up just adds another line to the mix.

Cambridge handles this by not using a "book" and instead spreading the sheets out on large tables, allowing 2 or 3 people to run check-in at a time... though that is only compatible with certain physical locations (large tables, small voting lists) and likely pushes the boundaries on the requirements in the law for a "book." Brookline splits the book into two for some larger locations, but it's still not super fast.

Early voting helps by spreading the crowd out (though, as noted, only for general elections, i.e., even years in November) but doesn't get at the underlying problem.

Honestly, I'm all ears if anyone has an idea about speeding the check-in process.

I agree with your points. But

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I agree with your points. But I'll also add that some poll workers are much quicker than others. The city should find a way to make the best use of people who are good at this job.

What about early voting?

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Shouldn't that help deal with the crowds? This fall was the first time we had it in MA. I expect it will become more popular.

Creating sub-precincts should help, though. Redrawing all the precincts would kick over a political hornets nest, as the precincts are the building blocks of local, state and federal districts.

No early voting this year

Early voting is only possible in even-numbered years - so, next year, when it's a governor's race, and in 2020 when we all vote for anyone-but-Donald.

EDIT: Strike that. " .. in 2020 when we all vote for anyone-but-Pence" since Mr. Trump will be hitting the links in Stalingrad by this time next year.

For odd-numbered years (2017), there's no early voting.

Why not?

For odd-numbered years (2017), there's no early voting.

Why is that?

Cost and turnout

The goal of early voting was to reduce lines; I mean, one of the goals. Turnout is lower in municipal elections so lines aren't usually a problem.

The state approved (mandated?) early voting in each municipality but hasn't put up the money to cover (all) the additional costs associated with it. Not that they necessarily should, just saying.

How Precincting is hidden.

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a) Improve maps of Precincts to delineate the Names of Bordering Streets and b) make more clear Bordering Streets that are split between Precincts.

c) Make available online narrative descriptions documenting what exactly are the Bordering Streets of Precincts.

d) Delineate online the algorithm used to apply Census data for Precincting.

e) Compare differences between Election Precincts and Police Districts/Precincts.

Why e?

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Why would somebody care about the differences between precinct lines and police district lines?

And yeah, I specifically said "police district" instead of "precinct" because Boston has police districts, not precincts, which I know not just because, well, I write about police stuff, but because it came up once when the police were angry enough at Dianne Wilkerson about something that they wrote a letter to the Globe about how she didn't know anything because she referred to Boston "precincts," when only New York has precincts and we have districts, q.e.d. and the vituperativeness of that particular harrumphing has stuck with me.

Algorithm for Census Data.

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The overarching question is about how to use Census data properly for delineating Borders of Precincts, Wards, Districts.


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Census Tracts are unrelated to wards, precincts, or police districts.