Proposed Solution on Redistricting
Proposal:Independent Redistricting Commission or Gubernatorial Veto
Source of Proposal:Governor Andrew Cuomo
Summary of Proposal:
New York has had some of the worst gerrymandering in America. For decades, the two major parties collaborated in drawing district lines in such a way that almost every election result is foreordained. Since 1970, in fact, only 40 incumbent State legislators have lost their seats in an election out of more than 4,000 races.19 Studies show that the longer legislators stay in office, the less their policy choices conform to public opinion in their districts.
Unlike in many other states, in New York it is the elected representatives themselves who decide what the districts should look like. New York law creates a legislative “task force” responsible for preparing data and submitting draft redistricting plans for the Legislature’s approval. The task force is a creature of legislators—or those picked by legislators—comprised of four members of the Legislature, from both the majority and minority, and two citizens handpicked by the Legislature’s leaders.21 The plans approved by the Legislature have usually been developed with input from individual legislators, often drawing their own districts to exclude challengers. As a result, the line drawing process is antithetical to fair and accountable representation.
An Independent Redistricting Commission
As Governor, Andrew Cuomo will fight for the creation of an independent redistricting commission. The commission, rather than the Legislature, would produce the new district maps for New York State after each Census. Because the members of the commission would not be motivated by reelection concerns, they would be free to focus on the values that should drive redistricting, including population equality, contiguity, compactness, preservation of communities of interest, preservation of pre-existing administrative boundaries, minority representation, and competitiveness. New York would finally have districts drawn by neutral umpires, not biased insiders.
Moreover, the commission would work transparently. It would hold numerous public hearings throughout New York, soliciting comments from interested individuals and organizations all over the State. Its proposed district maps would be subject to extensive comment and revision before being finalized. All of its votes would take place at public meetings, and transcripts of its meetings and hearings would be publicly disseminated. Like New York itself, the membership of the commission must also be diverse in every sense of that word. Legislation introduced by Assemblyman Michael Gianaris—and sponsored in the Senate by Senator David Valesky—would create an independent redistricting commission.22 This legislation, coupled with the recent effort by citizens groups—led by former Mayor Ed Koch—illustrates that the time is ripe for action.
Reform Process or Veto the Plan
Talk of reform on this critical issue is not enough. As Governor, Andrew Cuomo will veto any redistricting plan in 2012 that reflects partisan gerrymandering and ensure that the State has set itself on a path to reforming the process itself.