Governor: ‘Independent redistricting’
Years of political debate and charges of corruption in Albany could end with the passage of the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor’s plan would establish an independent redistricting commission to permanently reform how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn in New York.
Cuomo said he is pushing the act in reaction to criticism aimed at the state capital for “placing political considerations that protect incumbent office-holders and partisan objectives above the public’s interest.”
“This process needs to be about the people and not the politics,” Cuomo said. “To help restore faith in our state government, we need to reform the system. This bill ensures greater independence, transparency and a commitment to fair representation and equality.”
According to Cuomo, the commission would offer citizens throughout the state the opportunity to voice their opinions through a series of public hearings. It would also post its redistricting plans and corresponding data on a website.
The bill requires the commission to be bipartisan and reflect the state’s diversity.
“In the past, entire neighborhoods have been torn apart for the personal political gain of entrenched incumbents,” said state Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-West Seneca. “To restore the people’s faith and trust in our government, we must eradicate this longtime practice of Albany politicians picking and choosing their own voters with political gerrymandering.”
“Government should never be about maintaining the incumbency of politicians,” Kennedy added, “Rather, it must always be about serving the hardworking men and women of our state and rebuilding our economy.”
Redistricting was one of the promises Cuomo made during his campaign last year. He was joined by several members of both the Senate and Assembly in signing a pledge to support independent redistricting.
“I am pleased that Gov. Cuomo is upholding his promise to institute comprehensive redistricting reform, and I expect every lawmaker who signed the NY Uprising pledge to do the same,” said Edward Koch, former mayor of New York City and founder of NY Uprising. “This legislation would replace the current ‘incumbent protection program’ and partisan gerrymandering with a system based on independence, sound criteria and greater citizen involvement.”
In addition to proposing this bill, Cuomo promised to veto the redistricting plans passed by the Legislature if those plans have been developed under the existing process.
According to the proposal, members of the commission would be chosen by the legislative leaders from a bipartisan pool of qualified candidates that reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic and gender diversity. To ensure independence, the decision-makers would be required to consult with organizations devoted to protecting voters’ rights.
Anyone who has been a member of the Legislature, a legislative or executive chamber employee, a political party official or a registered lobbyist in the past four years is ineligible to be selected to the commission.
The proposal lays out the following requirements for redrawing the district lines:
All congressional districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable.
Districts shall be contiguous.
Districts shall not be established that are intended to or result in a denial or abridgement of minority voting rights, including the opportunity of minority voters to participate in the political process, and to elect the candidates of their choice.
Districts shall not be drawn with an intent to favor or oppose any political party, any incumbent, or any previous or presumed candidate for office.
Dick Dadey, executive director of the advocacy group Citizens Union, said Cuomo has taken a historic step — one no other New York governor has taken — to reform the way district lines are drawn.
“His proposal turns an important campaign promise he made to New Yorkers into a welcomed governing commitment,” he said. “We look forward to working with him and reform-minded legislators to achieve this needed paradigm shift and change how democracy is practiced in NY.”