Minority Voters Demand Electoral Changes in Haverhill

Voting Rights

On the heels of several Massachusetts cities – including Lowell and Worcester – moving away from all “at-large” electoral systems for electing their city councils and school committees, minority voters in Haverhill are demanding a more democratic and representative electoral system. Led by the Latino Coalition, an organization whose mission is to inspire and empower Latinx residents to be active members of the local community in Haverhill, minority voters are requesting that the City of Haverhill voluntarily change its current all “at-large” electoral system. 

According to a letter sent by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) on behalf of the minority voters, electoral change is necessary to ensure the City’s compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. When all of a public body’s seats are elected city-wide, as is the case with Haverhill’s City Council and School Committee, that can dilute the vote of communities of color, allowing a majority voting bloc to win 100% of the seats in 100% of the elections and depriving communities of color of equal voting opportunity. 

Haverhill is extremely diverse – and becoming more so with each successive year. People of color account for nearly 30% of the City’s population – this number is likely to increase even further when Census 2020 data is released in the coming weeks. The Haverhill Public Schools are even more diverse than the City as a whole, with approximately 50% students of color. Despite this composition and the rapid growth of communities of color, the City Council and School Committee are all white and have been so for virtually all of Haverhill’s history. 

Moreover, voting patterns indicate that, were candidates of color allowed to run in ward- or district-based as opposed to city-wide elections, such candidates would win in Haverhill. This in turn would enhance diversity on elected bodies and help ensure the accountability and responsiveness to Haverhill’s communities of color that are currently lacking.

“The courts have ruled that at-large systems such as Haverhill’s are unfair and illegal. We hope that Haverhill will change its electoral system voluntarily to ensure communities of color are provided equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” said Oren M. Sellstrom, Litigation Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, one of the attorneys representing the minority voters. 

“The City Council and School Committee do not remotely reflect Haverhill’s rich diversity. We need fair representation in Haverhill,” said Manuel Matias, President of the Latino Coalition. “Changing the current election system would be a good start.” 

Haverhill is one of a dwindling number of cities in the Commonwealth to elect its City Council and School Committee through an all “at-large” electoral system. Other cities and towns in the Commonwealth have moved to a system that includes at least some district-based seats. In a district-based system, a city is divided into a number of districts, and residents of each of those districts vote for their own representative on the City Council and School Committee. In 2019, following two years of litigation, the City of Lowell settled a federal lawsuit filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights, ultimately agreeing to change to a district-based electoral system for both the School Committee and City Council. Faced with a similar voting rights lawsuit, city officials in Worcester have announced that they will also move away from an all at-large method of electing their School Committee.

The demand letter to Haverhill is attached and available here