Making Democracy Work

Redistricting

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New York voters in November 2014 approved a state constitutional amendment to establish the 10-member commission.

NY redistricting plan bolstered by high court ruling

WASHINGTON + Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona's use of an independent commission for redistricting is good news for New York's plan to use an advisory commission to redraw congressional and state legislative districts after the next census.

New York voters in November approved a state constitutional amendment to establish the 10-member commission.

"What the Supreme Court has decided is that the people of the states can, in fact, decide how to allocate their legislative power," said Seth Waxman, a former U.S. solicitor general under President Bill Clinton. Waxman represented the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in the case decided by the Supreme Court.

In that case, Arizona's commission had total control over redistricting based on a voter referendum approved in 2000 to address the issue of gerrymandering.

The Arizona Legislature challenged the commission's congressional maps adopted in 2012, saying the U.S. Constitution specifies that each state's legislature has final authority over redistricting.

In a 5-to-4 decision written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that "the Constitution's animating principle (is) that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government."

Because the New York Legislature will have the final say on new boundaries following the 2020 census, the state's process wasn't in jeopardy because of the Arizona lawsuit.

Nonetheless, the ruling boosts efforts to establish independent commissions to handle redistricting "even in states that do not have an initiative process," said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director for Common Cause and the organization's California executive director.

"We don't need to dismantle those reforms that put citizens into the driver's seat," Feng said.

New York's November 2014 referendum to establish a redistricting commission followed successive votes by two sessions of the state Legislature that also approved the advisory commission.

The New York commission's recommendations, however, will be subject to an up-or-down vote by the state Legislature, which will retain the right to draw new district boundaries if it rejects two successive plans offered by the commission.

BTUMULTY@Gannett.com

Brian Tumulty is a Washington correspondent for USA TODAY.

Fighting for Redistricting Reform since 1920 - Well worth the effort!

REDISTRICTING -The public deserves an independent commission to draw the state legislative and congressional districts according to fair and objective criteria with meaningful public input. The League of Women Voters of Westchester support the appoint of an independent commission. The people of the state of New York deserve better than a system that allows politicians to draw lines that insure their continuance in power at the expense of the public's right to representation.

LWV of Westchester County Statement on Redistricting Feb. 2012

As a nonpartisan citizen's organization, the League of Women Voters has long supported the appointment of an independent commission for the redistricting process. The League believes that the results of the present partisan process only serve to demonstrate the need for such an independent body. Analysis makes evident that the process has resulted in even more gerrymandered lines particularly for the state Senate Districts than in the past.

The 37th Senate District map shows zigzagging lines drawn through Yonkers, New Rochelle and White Plains + splitting these communities in such a manner as to carve minorities out of this district. The concept of `community of interest' was clearly abandoned in dividing these municipalities. The lack of adherence to the concept of `community of interest' is further demonstrated by putting Scarsdale in the 35th district with the River towns and western part of the County when its community of interest lies with the eastern side of the county + especially when it comes to flooding issues and storm water management, significant issues in that part of the County...and part of the Scarsdale School district lies in Mamaroneck.

Then we have the example of Ossining + which has been moved into a senate district in Rockland County + on the other side of the Hudson River + completely isolated from the rest of Westchester County.

The League is also deeply concerned and disappointed with the timing as well. The lines were released only last Thursday, January 26, and the hearings for comments began on Monday January 30. There were a very limited number of hearings scheduled and few, if any, of those were located in the counties most affected by the proposed redistricting. In many cases, there was not enough time for the distribution of materials to the public to allow for meaningful input. This clearly limits the opportunities for communities and individual voters to do the type of in depth analysis and review needed to provide comments We are now being told that there is little or no time to make changes because of the Federal Court's setting of the date for congressional primaries and the lines must be adopted. We find the release date and the present urgency all too convenient and an attempt at a `fait accompli'.

The public wants and deserves an independent commission to draw the state legislative and congressional districts according to fair and objective criteria with meaningful public input. We urge Governor Cuomo to veto these lines and appoint an independent commission. The people of the state of New York deserve better than a system that allows politicians to draw lines that insure their continuance in power at the expense of the public's right to representation.

Carolyn Stevens, Board Member, LWVW Sharon Lindsay, President, LWVW February 2012

LWVW Commented to County Redistricting Committee in May, 2011

At the public hearing on May 9, 2011 Adelaide DiGiorgi, accompanied by Janet Zagoria, both members of the LWV Westchester County Redistricting Committee, read a statement to the County Redistricting Committee.

Following is the summary statement.

Because both sides in the county redistricting debate have invoked the League of Women Voters name, we think we need to explain our position on this matter. Quite simply, we do not take any responsibility for the process or the results as they currently stand. The process has been extremely messy, and aspects of it have been very questionable.

Following the 2010 census, the League would have liked to see an independent commission reallocate county seats starting from scratch. Instead, very quickly, the Board of Legislators (BOL) took charge of the process. The consultant, Dr. Andrew Beveridge, proposed to just "tweak" the few districts that departed by five percent or more from the new population norm of 55,830; the BOL's Legislation Committee agreed.

Almost immediately, legislators were privately in touch with Dr. Beveridge to request changes in his proposed maps. He accommodated them. Over several meetings successive adjustments gave rise to new maps that made for a pile of paper we all struggled to keep up with. Dr. Beveridge was not always physically present. Some legislators came and went. No clear guidelines were evident except for the looming deadline in June. A particular issue in District 4 spurred discussion: a Republican contender for a Democratic legislator's seat was being redistricted into adjoining District 1. Dr. Beveridge said that it was simply a matter of pushing District 1 to the town border, but a result was to split the City of Peekskill.

The general approach continued into the afternoon of Monday, May 2nd, when -- in the absence of the League, which had not been notified of the meeting -- Dr. Beveridge and the committee agreed on further changes to address an oversight: taking account of the fact that prisoners at the Bedford Correctional Institute and Sing Sing, in Ossining, should be counted in their home districts. Only after the public hearing that evening did a committee staff member pass one of the two League representatives a report of those changes.

The LWVW appreciates the BOL Chairman's invitation to us to participate in the project. We found the committee members cordial; one even solicited our view of the process. When we criticized it for not being open enough, the committee chair immediately responded by reviewing changes district by district. But we think the process remained flawed.

Under these circumstances, the LWVW believes it cannot endorse the county redistricting process, and we wish to distance ourselves from the resulting product.