Demographic changes could have an effect on 16th Worcester District majority-minority

Downtown Worcester, MA. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

By Ariane Vigna
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — A Worcester Massachusetts House district currently represented by Democrat Daniel Donahue shifted from mostly white to majority-minority, a demographic change that could have implications when lawmakers draw new district boundaries later this year, according to a new analysis by Lawyers for Civil Rights.

The analysis, conducted by Maxwell Palmer, a Boston University professor, shows that the populations of at least four other State House districts and one Senate district have also shifted to majority-minority.

The change could allow more diverse groups of voters to bring minority candidates to the Legislature, according to MassVOTE, a voting rights organization working to increase participation in historically underrepresented communities.

“There’s a greater chance that minority candidates will be elected, and that’s great because they are underrepresented in our legislative bodies,” Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager of MassVOTE, said. “You want to see the legislature look like the people of Massachusetts.”

Several attempts to speak to Donahue, D-Worcester, by phone and email were unsuccessful. 

A 2019 MassINC report found that women, Asian, African American and Latino residents were underrepresented in the 200-seat Legislature. White residents and male residents were overrepresented.

A total of 20 of the state’s 160 House districts have a racial minority group or a coalition of minority groups making up a majority of the total population, according to Lawyers for Civil Rights.

The analysis offers a preview of the opportunities that lie ahead to “make representative democracy a reality in Massachusetts,” particularly for people in racially and demographically diverse communities, the Lawyers for Civil Rights said.

“Redistricting in 2021 poses an incredible opportunity for communities of color to expand their political power and elect representatives who understand their needs and respond to their interests,” Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement.

Psilakis of MassVOTE pointed to the election of 7th District U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, as an example of what the demographic shift could mean for future elections.

“A few years ago, when the district was redrawn to include a more diverse electorate, it made it more likely for a Black woman to get elected,” Psilakis said. “She couldn’t have done that before because of all the barriers in place.

“These shifts ultimately empower individuals in these communities to elect officials that look more like the community and understand the community better,” Psilakis said.

Psilakis said the shift is part of a larger demographic trend in the state. This trend is most notably in Gateway Cities — midsize urban centers that anchor regional economies around the state, offering residents jobs and a gateway to the American Dream.

“More of the population growth in Massachusetts in the census has occurred in the Gateway Cities, which are far more diverse because there are a lot of immigrants,” Psilakis said. “It’s not surprising that a city like Worcester and the communities around it have more diversity.”

Worcester City Councilor George J. Russell said that the community changed as immigrants came from different corners of the world. He added that elected officials will continue efforts to reach out to all their constituents by attending community events.

“Politics is networking at the local level and you have to represent everyone, not just people from your ethnicity,” Russell said. “Part of being a good official is reaching out to every corner of the community. I pride myself in that and our current state representative does, too.”

Psilakis said achieving legislative representation for residents necessitates encouraging immigrant communities to fill out the census. However, non-citizens were wary of disclosing their immigration status on last year’s census. Many of these individuals’ fear steamed from an attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a move that the Supreme Court ultimately stopped.

“There was this fear that the county wouldn’t get the full count of its residents and that would disproportionately impact Hispanic communities,” Psilakis said. “It’s important to make sure communities are counted so they can be represented. They deserve to have their voices heard.”

This article was previously published in the Telegram & Gazette.

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