The right way to redistrict now
By MICHAEL BENJAMIN
Last Updated: 12:30 AM, August 2, 2011
Posted: 10:31 PM, August 1, 2011
To the fevered consternation of editorial boards and good government groups, Albany is going ahead with redistricting in “the same old way.”
The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment is proceeding with hearings before it redraws electoral districts in the wake of the 2010 Census.
For his part, Gov. Cuomo has promised to veto any redistricting plan that is “not fair” — and has a bill that would drastically reform the procedure.
He’s not as radical as former Mayor Ed Koch, who has been pushing a completely independent redistricting panel. Sounds like good government — but in practice it would hijack constitutional government: Like it or not, the state Constitution delegates this authority to the Legislature.
Lawmakers who made Koch’s “New York Uprising” pledge promised to delegate their redistricting prerogative to some nonpartisan, “independent” panel controlled by the governor. State Sen. Mark Grisanti, for one, now says that what seemed appropriate during the campaign now conflicts with the reality of duty. Should he get more grief for this than for his similar change of heart on same-sex marriage?
Other critics accuse the task force of ignoring a new law requiring that prisoners be counted in their home districts. Not only is the accusation premature (hearings are just beginning), it’s a flat-out lie.
The new law is intended for purposes of reapportionment only — it doesn’t give inmates a vote, it merely means that the Upstate areas won’t get “extra” population for the purposes of redistricting. Republicans are challenging the measure in state court, but they’ll likely lose. In the meantime, the task force will implement the law.
It’s hard to see how there’s even time for Koch’s scheme: Setting up a new panel would take weeks or months, and New York needs a redistricting plan by year’s end.
By law, the redistricting plans must be approved by the Legislature and the governor.
And the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division must review it for three New York City counties (Bronx, Kings and New York) for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. We need to allow time for all that — and for other legal challenges.
Remember, the primaries will most likely be at least a month earlier next year, to comply with other federal voting-rights laws.
Cuomo may be bent on reform, but he needs to avoid election chaos, too. He’d be wise to negotiate an agreement allowing the task force to proceed — as an interim step.
Then lawmakers can take care in establishing a nonpartisan, ethnically and geographically diverse redistricting commission, which can redraw legislative districts in 2015 and thereafter — subject to approval by the Legislature (as New York’s Constitution requires).
Read more here.
UPDATE: (8/3/2011) Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Jack McEneny released a joint statement this afternoon pledging to follow the law that requires prisoners be counted as residents of their last known addresses, not where their facility is located.
Here’s the Assembly statement:
Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring that prison inmates be counted in their home communities rather than their incarceration address for the purpose of redistricting. The Assembly Majority believes that complying with the law as written is not only the prudent thing to do, it is also the right thing to do. In order to comply with the law, Assembly staff have been working with the original inmate records provided by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to ensure inmates are counted properly. Our work is nearly complete and the results will be made public in the near future.We urge our task force members to join with us, ensuring compliance with both the letter and intent of the law. This is the responsible action for the Legislature to take. Regardless of any personal political stance on the prison count issue, we encourage all task force members to join us in our effort to fully comply with the law as it is written.