City Clerk Sergio Cornelio says Everett is looking at changing how residents elect their city councilors. This comes after the legal advocacy group, Lawyers for Civil Rights, sent a letter to Everett saying the city “is vulnerable to a challenge under the federal Voting Rights act” because Everett’s minority communities are almost entirely unrepresented in elected office.
Everett currently has both at-large and ward councilors. However, the ward councilors are elected by a citywide vote, as is the school committee. Cornelio said he is convening a meeting to consider a system where ward councilors are elected solely by residents within their wards.
Oren Sellstrom, litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights, says the system of electing representatives through citywide voting makes it harder for minority communities to field and elect candidates of color.
Indeed, the most recent available census data shows that Everett is nearly 40 percent non-white. About 20 percent of residents identify as African American, and about 23 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. But a Boston Globe article published in 2017 said at the time that the city had only elected three Latino men, one black man, and 17 women in its history. The 11-member city council currently has only one female member. All city councilors identify as white, and 10 of the 11 were born in the U.S., according to Mike Mangan, legislative aide for Everett's city council.
Under a ward-based electoral system, Sellstrom says, the minority vote would not be as diluted and it would be more likely that elected officials would demographically reflect the city’s population. In order for this change to happen, Cornelio says, it would have to be approved by the state.
Ward councilors elected by residents within those wards is not entirely new for Everett — this is how ward councilors were elected in the city before the system changed in 2013. And Cornelio isn't the only one trying to make the change.
At-Large Councilor Wayne Matewsky said he introduced a resolution on ward-based elections after learning that the system had been changed in 2013 because of an effort to unseat him.
“I asked the chairman of the charter commission,” Matewsky said, “‘Why, Mr. Chairman, did you change a district councilman to be required to run citywide?’ He told me it was because of me — because nobody is going to beat me in Ward One.”
Matewsky said it was only through a citywide vote that they thought he could be defeated, though he was re-elected and is still on the council now.
“This is Everett politics at it’s worst. It’s just undemocratic,” he said.
The councilor said his resolution is simply trying to right that wrong and has nothing to do with trying to increase minority representation.
“This has nothing to do with the minority status of anything,” said Matewsky. “I am saying it’s unfair to everybody.”
However, he said he appreciates the Lawyers for Civil Rights backing his resolution, regardless of whether they disagree on why the change in the electoral system is needed.
After the Nov. 5 election, Cornelio said efforts to make the change will begin in earnest.
Senior Digital Producer Emily Judem contributed to this article.