New Bedford’s Taber Mill Residents Shut Out From Voting in Their Own Building
Every U.S. Census allows for redistricting to occur when it comes to voting.
The criticism is that lawmakers redraw district lines to favor their political party. Known as "gerrymandering," it is said to tilt election results, making races less competitive and causing voters to feel their voices don't matter.
That's how the majority of seniors that I spoke with at New Bedford's Taber Mill public housing feel about recent changes to where they vote.
For years, the retired folks there have been quite proud of the large number of voters who've turned out because they didn't have to leave their building.
This year, the number of voters nosedived because the polling place for those who live in Taber Mill was moved off the property, while a polling place remained in the building's community room for a different precinct.
"It’s a shame that the redistricting ended up with that result. If nobody was voting in that building, maybe that would be easier to take than the fact that there are one or two precincts actually voting in that building, but these people cannot," New Bedford City Council President Linda Morad said in her weekly appearance on WBSM.
"This is an issue that has been brought to our attention before. Councilor (Maria) Giesta has been working on this and now has asked (Ward 3) Councilor (Shawn) Oliver to join her, and we have been talking to Manny (DeBrito, Election Commissioner) and to the state delegation," Morad said. "I don’t think this was intentional in any way, it’s just a result of the redistricting that was done quickly and maybe not with a lot of thought process on the part of the state elections office that redrew these lines."
DeBrito said a lot has changed over the past two years.
"I've heard from many of the Taber Mill tenants, who are upset and bothered that their polling station has moved to Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," he said. "I get it. I feel for everyone there, but it's completely out my hands."
"I've personally spoken with Secretary (Bill) Galvin's office on numerous occasions about this, but they don't see this issue doing an about face, according to the Secretary of State's office. They don't see that happening. The law is clear and we follow it," DeBrito said.
Newly-elected Ward 3 City Councilor Shawn Oliver lamented that the residents would have to leave their building to vote after to doing it in their own community room for so many years.
"It’s unfortunate that the redistricting had forced them to go elsewhere," he said. "These folks, a lot of them stay in the building. Their community room is down there, where the actual polling facility is, they actually look forward to their day to vote."
Oliver had a possible solution.
"I floated the idea of why can’t we make Taber Mill an early voting facility? We’d have to open it up to the city, and they’re already welcoming us as a polling station, so I don't think that the folks there would have a problem making it an early voting facility," Oliver said. "Perhaps the voters in Taber Mill won’t be able to vote on quote-unquote election day, but they’ll have a day they’ll be able to come downstairs and cast their vote."
In the meantime, DeBrito arranged for transportation from Taber Mill to Holy Family, where precinct 3-D is now located, unless something changes.
"We're not going to back off this issue," he said. "We're going to continue looking into this, because I want fair representation and everyone registered to vote."