Redistricting

Noncompetitive Districts

So long as legislators are drawing their own district lines with an eye toward their own re-election, we will never have the fair elections that New Yorkers deserve.

In fact, the chart above shows New York’s districts are so uncompetitive that incumbents have only lost just over 30 times over the past 1,060 elections. Either they’re doing a fantastic job (which no New Yorker believes), or they’ve stacked the deck to avoid competition.  The New York Times, points to gerrymandering as the source stating:
 
"This process has worked so well for so many politicians that the New York Public Interest Research Group reports that in 2008 more than half of the state’s 212 legislators were re-elected with more than 80 percent of their districts’ votes. In 57 districts, the incumbents ran unopposed. New faces appear rarely, usually when a lawmaker retires, dies or, increasingly, gets convicted of abusing the public trust." Editorial, "Gerrymandering, Pure and Corrupt," New York Times, November 11, 2009.
 

Old Partisan Gerrymandered Districts (2000 - 2010)

The New Maps Are No Better

Competition is minimized by stacking districts with super majorities of one party or another.  This is true for both the Senate and Assembly.  

Below are some examples of partisan gerrymandering of both the Democratically controlled Assembly Districts and Republican controlled Senate Districts that ignore constitutional redistricting principals in an effort to protect incumbents.

New York State Senate District 51 Case Study #1: "As compact form as practicable"?

New York State Senate District 51

Nickname: "Abraham Lincoln Riding a Vacuum Cleaner"

  • Half as tall and one-third the length of the entire state
  • Cover all of part of 7 different counties
  • Crosses 6 different Assembly Districts
  • Includes 3 different broadcast media markets
   

New York State Senate District 60

 Case Study #2: "Consists of contiguous territory"?

New York State Senate District 60

Nickname: "A District Divided"

  • Two areas in two counties that are more than a mile apart.
  • Cuts the City of Tonawanda in half
  • Cuts the City of Buffalo in half
  • Protects Republicans in adjoining districts by packing Democrats into a divided district that has a 5:1 Democratic to Republican ratio
   
 

Case Study #3: "No county shall be divided"?

New York State Senate District 49

Nickname: "The 'long arm' of legislative redistricting"

  • Divides three out of four counties (Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida)
  • Divides three out of four cities, each in a different county (Auburn, Rome, and Syracue)
  • Out arm is 30 miles long, 40 miles high and includes 12 towns
  • Completely wraps around 3 sides of an adjoining State Senate District
   
 

Case Study #4: "As compact a form as practicable"?

New York State Assembly District 13

Nickname: "The Snake of Long Island Sound"

  • Horseshoe-shaped district skims the shoreline of the Long Island Sound to connect Democrats in Glen Cove, Roslyn, Sea Cliff with Democrats in Jericho, Plainview, and Old Bethpage
  • Almost completely wraps around Assembly District 15 a district packed with Republicans to create in order to create a Democratic district
  • Connected in several locations by narrow strips of land with no population
   

 

New York State Assembly District 131

Nickname: "The Rochester Teapot"

  • Creates a District where Republicans living in four suburban towns representing the majority of the landmass of the Assembly District are out numbered 2:1 by Democrats in "the Rochester Hook"
  • Carves the City of Rochester into three Democratic Assembly Districts representing the surrounding area
  • Divides communities of interest by connecting narrow areas on the outskirts of the City of Rochester with large suburban towns
  • Connected in several locations by narrow strips of land with no population
  • "For decades, Democrats have controlled the Assembly, and the mapmaking for their own house. That is why the district for Democrat Susan John in the Rochester area looks a little like a teapot. The bulk of her district is in the suburbs, prime Republican territory, but to keep Ms. John in office, the mapmakers added what looks like a curl of steam that runs through the most Democratic areas of Rochester. Without it, Ms. John’s seat could easily turn Republican." Editorial, "Gerrymandering, Pure and Corrupt," New York Times, November 11, 2009
   
New York Congressional District 17 

New York Congressional District 17

Nickname: "The Steps from the Bronx to Ramapo"

  • Combines the majority-minority communities of the North Bronx, Mount Vernon, and downtown Yonkers with the Riverdale area in a district shape that then steps up the shore of the Hudson to cross into Rockland County.
  • Residents in the North Bronx and Southern Westchester urban areas like Mount Vernon and Yonkers face very different issues and have very different needs than residents in the far northern suburbs of Rockland County.
  • All along its path, the district divides neighborhoods and communities: Downtown Yonkers is split in half and individual blocks are torn out Hudson River villages like Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry.
  • The electorate has been cherry-picked with no regard for communities of interest or keeping neighborhoods, towns, and cities whole.
   
New York Congressional District 17 

New York Congressional District 22

Nickname: "Southern Tier Frying Pan"

  • Snatches three Hudson Valley cities – Middletown, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie – into a district that stretches over 100 miles across the Catskills into the Southern Tier. The district extends west in a narrow panhandle through Binghamton before turning north and ending in Ithaca.
  • This is a partisan gerrymander to designed to protect the incumbent by collecting as many Democratic votes as possible.
  • Compared to surrounding rural areas, the cities of Middletown, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, and Ithaca all trend more heavily Democratic.
  • Cities are isolated from their surrounding suburbs and regions, preventing the kind of regional civic engagement that is necessary for good governance.

Gubernatorial Veto

"The veto really would inject a certain amount of chaos and uncertainty that really would be in no one's best interest ... The point is, control is all lost ... What happens if the judge just says, 'This is a legislative responsibility, it's always been the Legislature's responsibility -- let's just enact the Legislature's plan'? That could happen." -Governor Andrew CuomoTimes Union, October 26, 2011.

Governor Mario Cuomo, sought to thwart a partisan gerrymandered redistricting plan passed the legislature requiring his signature or veto.  While Governor Mario Cuomo also initially fought the plans, he would eventually fold in exchange for election law reforms including campaign finance contribution limitations as well as improvements to voter registration and ballot access. However, in signing the redistricting plan he included an unusual signing memorandum:

"It seems clear to me - and I believe it will be clear as well to other objective reviewers - that the Republican plan had as its primary concern the protection of incumbents against any real challenge … In doing so, I believe the Justice Department and the courts will both conclude laws have been violated … Given the legislature's performance in redistricting thus far, there is more than a serious possibility that a veto would simply allow the legislature to achieve the ultimate in incumbent protection - elections on existing lines."

Along the same lines Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a similar initial position as his father Governor Mario Cuomo but recently noted that a veto of a badly gerrymandered plan is no guarantee of fair lines. 

Judicial Intervention

History has shown that New York State legislative redistricting plans, no matter how political gerrymandered, shockingly have not be overturned by the Court. 

Since the deal in 1982 where Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink and Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson each agreed that they could each draw their own districts, no challenge to either house of the state legislature’s redistricting plan has held up in court despite ever increasing majorities of Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate.

In 2002, Democrats challenged the badly gerrymandered Republican Senate in Rodriguez v. Pataki, a lawsuit financially supported by Bill Samuels.

The Democrats alleged that Senate District 34 was drawn primarily on the basis of race to create a district with a white supermajority. 

The court concluded that incumbent protection was a legitimate goal and that the “challenges in Plaintiff’s complaint are without merit…we defer to the legislature’s plan and adopt its apportionment of these districts.”  Excerpts from the case are included below for your reference.

“While the Supreme Court has held that absolute population equality is required for congressional districts, Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725, 732-33, 103 S.Ct. 2653, 77 L.Ed.2d 133 (1983), districting plans for state legislative seats require only ‘substantial’ population equality. See Gaffney v. Cummings, 412 U.S. 735, 748, 93 S.Ct. 2321, 37 L.Ed.2d 298 (1973).“

“The Court has recognized that minor deviations from absolute population equality may be necessary to permit states to pursue other legitimate and rational state policies. See Reynolds, 377 U.S. at 577-81, 84 S.Ct. 1362; see also Mahan v. Howell, 410 U.S. 315, 321-22, 93 S.Ct. 979, 35 L.Ed.2d 320 (1973).”

“Particular state policies that justify minor deviations from absolute population equality generally include ‘making districts compact, respecting municipal boundaries, preserving the cores of prior districts, and avoiding contests between incumbent Representatives.’ Karcher, 462 U.S. at 740, 103 S.Ct. 2653.”

After stating that the incumbent protection was a valid purpose for gerrymandering, the court went on to find that the creation of white majority in a majority minority district was in fact for incumbent protection:

“We agree … that it is plain that the Senate majority had a powerful political incentive to avoid eliminating the district of a senior Republican incumbent or pairing him with a Democratic incumbent in a majority-Hispanic district that the Republican could not expect to win. 180 See Vera, 517 U.S. at 965, 116 S.Ct. 1941 …”

In concluding, the court reminds us of the incumbent protection standard:

"[W]e have recognized incumbency protection, at least in the limited form of `avoiding contests between incumbent[s],' as a legitimate state goal.“

The results of the court's decision in Rodriguez v. Pataki can be seen in Nassau County on Long Island where African American communities are currently split between 5 white male Republican Senators from Nassau: Dean Skelos in District 9, Charles Fuschillo in District 8, Jack Martins in District 7, Kemp Hannon in District 6 and Carl Marcellino in District 5.

The legal battle over redistricting in 2012 already started in 2011 with Favors v. Cuomo, Cv 11-5632, filed in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) before Federal Judge Irizarry and Magistrate Judge Mann, seeking the appointment of a Special Master to draw the lines in order to avoid the partisan gerrymandering process.

 

Noncompetitive Districts

So long as legislators are drawing their own district lines with an eye toward their own re-election, we will never have the fair elections that New Yorkers deserve.

In fact, the chart above shows New York’s districts are so uncompetitive that incumbents have only lost 30 times over the past 1,060 elections. Either they’re doing a fantastic job (which no New Yorker believes), or they’ve stacked the deck to avoid competition.  The New York Times, points to gerrymandering as the source stating:
 
"This process has worked so well for so many politicians that the New York Public Interest Research Group reports that in 2008 more than half of the state’s 212 legislators were re-elected with more than 80 percent of their districts’ votes. In 57 districts, the incumbents ran unopposed. New faces appear rarely, usually when a lawmaker retires, dies or, increasingly, gets convicted of abusing the public trust." Editorial, "Gerrymandering, Pure and Corrupt," New York Times, November 11, 2009.
 

Partisan Gerrymandering

Here are examples of the district maps that were passed in 2002 which will soon be replaced by the recent 2012 gerrymandered lines.  Below are some examples of partisan gerrymandering of both the Democratically controlled Assembly Districts and Republican controlled Senate Districts that ignore constitutional redistricting principals in an effort to protect incumbents.

Competition is minimized by stacking districts with super majorities of one party or another.  This is true for both the Senate and Assembly.  

New York State Senate District 51 Case Study #1: "As compact form as practicable"?

New York State Senate District 51

Nickname: "Abraham Lincoln Riding a Vacuum Cleaner"

  • Half as tall and one-third the length of the entire state
  • Cover all of part of 7 different counties
  • Crosses 6 different Assembly Districts
  • Includes 3 different broadcast media markets
   

New York State Senate District 60

 Case Study #2: "Consists of contiguous territory"?

New York State Senate District 60

Nickname: "A District Divided"

  • Two areas in two counties that are more than a mile apart.
  • Cuts the City of Tonawanda in half
  • Cuts the City of Buffalo in half
  • Protects Republicans in adjoining districts by packing Democrats into a divided district that has a 5:1 Democratic to Republican ratio
    

Case Study #3: "No county shall be divided"?

New York State Senate District 49

Nickname: "The 'long arm' of legislative redistricting"

  • Divides three out of four counties (Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida)
  • Divides three out of four cities, each in a different county (Auburn, Rome, and Syracue)
  • Out arm is 30 miles long, 40 miles high and includes 12 towns
  • Completely wraps around 3 sides of an adjoining State Senate District
    

Case Study #4: "As compact a form as practicable"?

New York State Assembly District 13

Nickname: "The Snake of Long Island Sound"

  • Horseshoe-shaped district skims the shoreline of the Long Island Sound to connect Democrats in Glen Cove, Roslyn, Sea Cliff with Democrats in Jericho, Plainview, and Old Bethpage
  • Almost completely wraps around Assembly District 15 a district packed with Republicans to create in order to create a Democratic district
  • Connected in several locations by narrow strips of land with no population
   
 

New York State Assembly District 131

Nickname: "The Rochester Teapot"

  • Creates a District where Republicans living in four suburban towns representing the majority of the landmass of the Assembly District are out numbered 2:1 by Democrats in "the Rochester Hook"
  • Carves the City of Rochester into three Democratic Assembly Districts representing the surrounding area
  • Divides communities of interest by connecting narrow areas on the outskirts of the City of Rochester with large suburban towns
  • Connected in several locations by narrow strips of land with no population
  • "For decades, Democrats have controlled the Assembly, and the mapmaking for their own house. That is why the district for Democrat Susan John in the Rochester area looks a little like a teapot. The bulk of her district is in the suburbs, prime Republican territory, but to keep Ms. John in office, the mapmakers added what looks like a curl of steam that runs through the most Democratic areas of Rochester. Without it, Ms. John’s seat could easily turn Republican." Editorial, "Gerrymandering, Pure and Corrupt," New York Times, November 11, 2009
   New York Congressional District 17 

New York Congressional District 17

Nickname: "The Steps from the Bronx to Ramapo"

  • Combines the majority-minority communities of the North Bronx, Mount Vernon, and downtown Yonkers with the Riverdale area in a district shape that then steps up the shore of the Hudson to cross into Rockland County.
  • Residents in the North Bronx and Southern Westchester urban areas like Mount Vernon and Yonkers face very different issues and have very different needs than residents in the far northern suburbs of Rockland County.
  • All along its path, the district divides neighborhoods and communities: Downtown Yonkers is split in half and individual blocks are torn out Hudson River villages like Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry.
  • The electorate has been cherry-picked with no regard for communities of interest or keeping neighborhoods, towns, and cities whole.
   New York Congressional District 17 

New York Congressional District 22

Nickname: "Southern Tier Frying Pan"

  • Snatches three Hudson Valley cities – Middletown, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie – into a district that stretches over 100 miles across the Catskills into the Southern Tier. The district extends west in a narrow panhandle through Binghamton before turning north and ending in Ithaca.
  • This is a partisan gerrymander to designed to protect the incumbent by collecting as many Democratic votes as possible.
  • Compared to surrounding rural areas, the cities of Middletown, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, and Ithaca all trend more heavily Democratic.
  • Cities are isolated from their surrounding suburbs and regions, preventing the kind of regional civic engagement that is necessary for good governance.

Gubernatorial Veto

"The veto really would inject a certain amount of chaos and uncertainty that really would be in no one's best interest ... The point is, control is all lost ... What happens if the judge just says, 'This is a legislative responsibility, it's always been the Legislature's responsibility -- let's just enact the Legislature's plan'? That could happen." -Governor Andrew CuomoTimes Union, October 26, 2011.

Governor Mario Cuomo, sought to thwart a partisan gerrymandered redistricting plan passed the legislature requiring his signature or veto.  While Governor Mario Cuomo also initially fought the plans, he would eventually fold in exchange for election law reforms including campaign finance contribution limitations as well as improvements to voter registration and ballot access. However, in signing the redistricting plan he included an unusual signing memorandum:

"It seems clear to me - and I believe it will be clear as well to other objective reviewers - that the Republican plan had as its primary concern the protection of incumbents against any real challenge … In doing so, I believe the Justice Department and the courts will both conclude laws have been violated … Given the legislature's performance in redistricting thus far, there is more than a serious possibility that a veto would simply allow the legislature to achieve the ultimate in incumbent protection - elections on existing lines."

Along the same lines Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a similar initial position as his father Governor Mario Cuomo but recently noted that a veto of a badly gerrymandered plan is no guarantee of fair lines. 

Judicial Intervention

History has shown that New York State legislative redistricting plans, no matter how political gerrymandered, shockingly have not be overturned by the Court. 

Since the deal in 1982 where Assembly Speaker Stanley Fink and Senate Majority Leader Warren Anderson each agreed that they could each draw their own districts, no challenge to either house of the state legislature’s redistricting plan has held up in court despite ever increasing majorities of Democrats in the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate.

In 2002, Democrats challenged the badly gerrymandered Republican Senate in Rodriguez v. Pataki, a lawsuit financially supported by Bill Samuels.

The Democrats alleged that Senate District 34 was drawn primarily on the basis of race to create a district with a white supermajority. 

The court concluded that incumbent protection was a legitimate goal and that the “challenges in Plaintiff’s complaint are without merit…we defer to the legislature’s plan and adopt its apportionment of these districts.”  Excerpts from the case are included below for your reference.

“While the Supreme Court has held that absolute population equality is required for congressional districts, Karcher v. Daggett, 462 U.S. 725, 732-33, 103 S.Ct. 2653, 77 L.Ed.2d 133 (1983), districting plans for state legislative seats require only ‘substantial’ population equality. See Gaffney v. Cummings, 412 U.S. 735, 748, 93 S.Ct. 2321, 37 L.Ed.2d 298 (1973).“

“The Court has recognized that minor deviations from absolute population equality may be necessary to permit states to pursue other legitimate and rational state policies. See Reynolds, 377 U.S. at 577-81, 84 S.Ct. 1362; see also Mahan v. Howell, 410 U.S. 315, 321-22, 93 S.Ct. 979, 35 L.Ed.2d 320 (1973).”

“Particular state policies that justify minor deviations from absolute population equality generally include ‘making districts compact, respecting municipal boundaries, preserving the cores of prior districts, and avoiding contests between incumbent Representatives.’ Karcher, 462 U.S. at 740, 103 S.Ct. 2653.”

After stating that the incumbent protection was a valid purpose for gerrymandering, the court went on to find that the creation of white majority in a majority minority district was in fact for incumbent protection:

“We agree … that it is plain that the Senate majority had a powerful political incentive to avoid eliminating the district of a senior Republican incumbent or pairing him with a Democratic incumbent in a majority-Hispanic district that the Republican could not expect to win. 180 See Vera, 517 U.S. at 965, 116 S.Ct. 1941 …”

In concluding, the court reminds us of the incumbent protection standard:

"[W]e have recognized incumbency protection, at least in the limited form of `avoiding contests between incumbent[s],' as a legitimate state goal.“

The results of the court's decision in Rodriguez v. Pataki can be seen in Nassau County on Long Island where African American communities were split between 5 white male Republican Senators from Nassau: Dean Skelos in District 9, Charles Fuschillo in District 8, Jack Martins in District 7, Kemp Hannon in District 6 and Carl Marcellino in District 5.

 

Every ten years brings redistricting and with it a bevy of lawsuits some filed on behalf of civil rights groups while others are essentially partisan in nature filed on behalf of the Democratic, Republican or third parties to use the courts to gain a political advantage over their adversaries.  This redistricting cycle has seen six such lawsuits.

Little v. LATFOR, No. 2310-2011, N.Y. Sup. Ct., Albany County, brought challenge by several Senate Republicans to a 2010 law requiring LATFOR to count prisoners at their residential address prior to incarceration instead of counting them in upstate prisons that had previously been used to bolster populations in the Upstate Senate Districts.  The 2010 law was upheld on summary judgment and a subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeals was remanded to the Appellate Division at which point the appeal was withdrawn, leaving the 2010 law intact and prisoners counter at their residential address prior to incarceration.

Cohen v. Cuomo, No. 12-102185, N.Y. Sup. Ct., New York County, previously filed as Cohen v. LATFOR, No. 101026/2012, N.Y. Sup. Ct., New York County, brought challenge  to the decision to increase the State Senate size by one from 62 to 63 Senate Districts.  The State Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision permitting the increase to 63 districts.

Favors v. Cuomo, No. 1:11-cv-05632, Federal District Court for the Eastern District New York, sought judicial intervention based on the legislature’s presumed inability to draw lines in a timely manner.  The court appointed a magistrate judge who drew the Congressional lines that the court ultimately approved on March 19, 2012 in the absence of a signed plan from the legislature.  The State  Senate challenge is still pending before the Eastern District. The remaining issue involves the statewide population disparity between upstate and downstate districts. Final court consideration of a Motion for Summary Judgment and discovery appeals are currently before the three judge panel.

New York v. United States, No. 1:12-cv-00413 and New York v. United States II, No. 1:12-cv-00500, Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, an action in federal court requesting Voting Rights Act preclearance of New York's state Senate districts and state Assembly districts, respectively. The case was withdrawn after the Justice Department approved the Senate and Assembly redistricting plans.

 

 

 

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