Do we Want Real Democracy or Incumbent Protection Insurance?

The constitutional amendment passed in 2014 to, in Governor Cuomo’s words, “once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering,” actually codifies and strengthens it.  For decades, the two parties have used redistricting to protect their incumbents, even at the expense of competing with the other party.  The new amendment creates a bipartisan committee, theoretically independent from the legislature.  However, the amendment contains a number of loopholes that would let either party kick redistricting back to the legislature, returning the state to exactly the same incumbent-protecting mess the amendment was supposed to eliminate.

New York needs a truly independent commission, free from control of the governor, the legislature, and even the two main political parties.  California has an excellent model, where its 14-member commission must be split between Republicans, Democrats, and independents, and at least 3 members of each group must vote in favor of a redistricting plan for it to pass.  Only the voters themselves can turn down the plan, in which case, the State Supreme Court would appoint a new commission to create a new plan.

What do you think?

• "This agreement will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering," Governor Cuomo said. "With the legislature agreeing to pass this historic constitutional amendment twice by a specified date, and passing a tough statue that mirrors the amendment, we have taken a major step toward finally reforming the state's broken redistricting process. New York is now a leader among the growing number of states that have reformed their redistricting process to stop such gerrymandering." -- Governor Cuomo

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2014 Amendment
“…If either house shall fail to approve the legislation implementing the second redistricting  plan, or the governor shall veto such legislation and the legislature shall fail to override such veto, each  house  shall introduce  such  implementing legislation with any amendments each house of the legislature deems necessary…. If approved by both houses, such legislation shall be presented to the governor for action.”

In New York before the recent amendment, both congressional and state legislative district boundaries were drawn by the state legislature, which could be vetoed by the governor. A six-member advisory commission assisted in the process. The commission recommended congressional and state legislative redistricting plans to the legislature, which could adopt, modify or ignore the commission’s. proposals.

The members of the commission were appointed by the majority leader of the New York State Senate, the majority leader of the New York State Assembly, the minority leader of the New York State Senate, and the minority leader of the New York State Assembly.

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In 37 states, legislatures are primarily responsible for the drawing of congressional district lines. Seven states use backup commissions and other procedures in case the state legislatures are unable to decide on redistricting.

Independent commissions draw the lines for both state legislative and congressional districts in six states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington. These commissions do not include legislators or other elected officials.

California and Arizona the most interesting structure, one that New York would do well to emulate:

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All About Redistricting, “California,” accessed April 21, 2015.

All About Redistricting, “New York,” accessed May 8, 2015.

Ballot Item Would Reform Redistricting, at Least in Theory,” Sam Roberts, The New York Times, October 12, 2014.

California’s redistricting success in jeopardy?” by Todd S. Purdum, Politico, March 1, 2015.

A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting,” Justin Levitt, The Brennan Center for Justice, 2010 Edition.

Judge: Redistricting Commission Not ‘Independent,’” Jimmy Vielkind, Politico, September 17, 2014.

New York Redistricting Memo,” Brennan Center for Justice, March 1, 2010.

A Proposed New York State Constitutional Amendment to Emancipate Redistricting from Partisan Gerrymanders Partisanship Channeled for Fair Line‐Drawing,” Committee on Election Law, New York City Bar, March, 2007.

Redistricting Procedures by State,” Ballotopedia.