Why is the City Changing its Election System?

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While the City’s decision to change its election system was triggered by a lawsuit filed against the City, this is a topic that has been discussed by the City Council and Lowell residents from time to time. The lawsuit was filed in May 2017 by Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino citizens of Lowell, MA. The lawsuit challenged Lowell’s at-large plurality municipal electoral system for City Council and School Committee members under the Voting Rights Act – essentially, the Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino plaintiffs argued that as minorities their votes are “diluted” under the current system, meaning that they are less able to elect candidates of choice than members of the white majority.

After a series of several mediation sessions, the City agreed to change its election system as a means of settling the lawsuit. On June 13, 2019, Judge Donald L. Cabell of the United States District Court signed and approved a Consent Decree in the matter of Huot et al., v. City of Lowell, also known as the Voting Rights case. A copy of the consent decree can be found here. The Consent Decree sets forth the terms of settlement.

The City’s current election system has been in place since 1957, and the City recognizes that many voters may feel that this system has served us well. Indeed, it was under this system that the first Southeast Asian was elected to local government in the United States. Several other minority candidates have subsequently been elected, as is fitting in a diverse community such as Lowell. However, the lawsuit caused the City to examine its electoral system closely. The City recognizes that the current system does have the potential to dilute the voting strength of a minority population. It also recognizes that other electoral systems have benefits that may be an improvement over the current system. Therefore, the City embraces this change and looks forward to the selection of an election system that will provide even better representation for all residents of Lowell.