This year, it’s not only about the candidates for office.
Rather, a measure on the ballot in New York State on November 4 whose stated goal is a fairer redistricting process has engendered a significant amount of controversy, with supporters and detractors on both sides of the aisle, and good government groups disagreeing about whether the measure improves the status quo in which legislators effectively choose their own voters rather than the other way around.
Proposal 1 – a constitutional amendment that needs voter approval to move forward – would create a bipartisan redistricting commission, with members chosen by both Democrats and Republicans, to redraw legislative district lines after each Census.
Currently, the lines are redrawn by the majority parties in the state legislature’s two houses. After the 2010 Census, that gave Republicans an advantage in the State Senate, and Democrats an advantage in the Assembly.
The result, pretty much everyone agrees, is that lines are now drawn to enhance partisan advantage. This makes it easier for incumbents to remain in office, by maximizing the number of voters of a particular party in a given district, which in turn discourages robust challenges and ultimately results in the dilution of voters’ voices, particularly in districts where political advantage means a larger-than-average number of residents are being crammed in.
The big question for voters, next month, is whether Proposal 1 improves the situation.
Groups such as Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters believe it does, contending it would take the process out of the hands of the majority party in each legislative house which has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Citing a report issued by his group on October 8, Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey noted, “The 2012 redistricting process [based on the 2010 Census] was business as usual in Albany, with the majority parties controlling the process and lines being drawn for partisan purposes rather than in the best interests of voters, with greater candidate choice and more contested elections.
“New Yorkers now have the opportunity to fix this rigged system and hold legislators accountable by voting Yes for Proposal 1 on November 4,” he added. “This state constitutional amendment will ban partisan gerrymandering by outlawing legislative maps drawn for political advantage.”
“This amendment is a significant improvement on the present broken redistricting system, and has the real potential to protect the rights of voters in New York,” agreed Sally Robinson, president of the League of Women Voters of New York.
Both agree that Proposal 1 is the best solution that can be achieved at this point in time, and that, while not perfect, it represents a significant improvement over the status quo.
However, NYPIRG and Common Cause are among those allied in opposition to Proposal 1, contending that it would simply codify an already skewed redistricting process.
On Common Cause’s website is a terse statement in opposition to the amendment. “When legislators draw district lines to prioritize incumbent and partisan interests, voters lose. Election outcomes are rigged and voters have little voice in choosing our representatives.
“True redistricting reform,” the statement continues, “would give voters the power to participate in the creation of political districts and ultimately to choose our representatives….We need an independent redistricting process to ensure that voters pick their politicians, not the other way around. That’s why Common Cause New York opposes the 2014 ballot referendum, which would enshrine partisanship into the state constitution by allowing the legislature to have final say on legislative lines.”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 4. Turn the ballot over to vote on Proposal 1 and two other proposals, one of which would scrap the existing mandate to print copies of every bill under consideration for each state legislator, providing for electronic transmission of the bills’ text to all legislators, and one of which would authorize the state to issue $2 billion in bonds to pay for technology upgrades for schools around New York.