What is Redistricting?
Redistricting involves the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts and is a crucial component of the electoral process which occurs every 10 years following the U.S. Census count. In theory, it ensures that all citizens are fairly and equally represented through their elected officials. At the federal level, congressional seats are split up (apportioned) based on the relative populations of each state. States then draw the individual district lines for all federal elections – these are referred to as congressional districts. At the state level, district lines for state legislative seats are drawn based on how the population is dispersed across the state. In New York, state legislators draw their own lines, creating a process that is political and often partisan.
Redistricting will occur next in New York in 2011 and 2012, beginning soon after the state receives the data from the U.S. Census on or before April 1st, 2011. New district lines need to be in place before the 2012 elections, meaning that change must occur in 2011 – or wait another 10 years for the next chance to change the process. The New York process is governed by both the federal law and the state constitution.
What is Partisan Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering occurs when electoral district boundaries are deliberately drawn for political purposes, rather than drawing boundaries virtually equal in population that reflect actual communities. It can produce unusual and oftentimes unnecessarily contorted district shapes and sizes that split apart communities. Some districts need to be drawn unusually to comply with the respective laws governing redistricting and to ensure fair and effective minority representation, but too many are drawn for partisan advantage and are not compact enough.
Because legislators in New York can draw their own lines, they essentially choose the voters before the voters choose them. Through the Legislative Task Force on Reapportionment and Redistricting (LATFOR), legislators themselves have in the past drawn and then voted upon district lines in order to maintain the power of the political party in charge, protect lawmakers already in office and discourage competition from challengers, even within the same party, and secure allegiance to party leadership .
Legislative gerrymandering is the single biggest factor contributing to the gridlock and chaos of Albany because it reinforces a system rooted in self-interest rather than the public interest. As new lines were drawn in past redistricting processes, bipartisan “horse trades” enabled the Assembly and Senate to institutionalize partisan control of each of these bodies. With fewer competitive races as a result of such gerrymandering, voters saw no reason to vote and stayed home, freeing incumbents to win 96% of their re-election races. Safely ensconced, these legislators feel no need to move beyond their partisan base and forge bipartisan solutions to the state’s pressing problems, instead simply backing the political agenda of the powerful legislative leaders who have made it possible for them to continue holding office. This leaves little room for effective and meaningful citizen influence in creating the public policies that affect them.
By changing the way voting districts are drawn, we will attack the root of a long standing power structure designed more to keep legislators in office rather than to serve the people of New York State.
By establishing an independent redistricting commission whose job is to impartially draw sensible lines that create diverse districts representing real communities, not incumbents, politicians will be more likely respond to a broad constituent base in order to be re-elected. Real candidate choice gives us the power to shape the public policy debate and move toward consensus-based solutions, not back room deals.
Last Updated (Friday, 25 March 2011 22:31)