Redistricting Plan a Game of Mirrors

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“Only a nonpartisan solution accurately reflects the voting publc,” – Liz Krueger

by Liz Krueger

Liz Krueger, (D) Senator, NY

Two years ago, I committed to vote against any redistricting plan unless it was developed through a nonpartisan redistricting process. I stand by that commitment, and not just because our current process is flawed. Not surprisingly, both houses’ majority parties are pushing their own partisan plans, despite the fact that every Republican senator and a majority of Assembly members made the same pledge I made: to vote against partisan redistricting and support real reform. It is now up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto the plan and allow a federal court to draw districts without the interference of self-interested legislators.
Some have argued that instead of sending the matter to the courts, Cuomo should allow a bad map this year in exchange for the promise of a better redistricting process in 2022. Unfortunately, this can’t work. Albany leaders have already welched on promises of reform—as the New York Times asked, “How can we trust this gang?”
Even if we could be guaranteed a better system a decade from now—which I believe is hardly certain—a decade is a long, long time to wait for reform. And make no mistake, the lines Albany’s partisan leaders have drawn are bad. They are designed for one purpose: benefiting the majority parties in each house at the expense of equal voting rights and rational representation for communities and neighborhoods.
The proposed state Senate lines are particularly egregious, but that’s to be expected; it is much harder to draw lines that protect Republican senators in New York because our state has been trending Democratic for years. To protect their vulnerable majority, the Senate Republicans’ proposal gives New York City one less district than the census figures warrant and adds an additional 63rd District upstate. They manage this—in spite of the fact that the state’s population has shifted downstate over the last 10 years—by once again putting many more people in New York City and Long Island districts than in upstate districts.
In addition, the plan once again creates Senate districts that systematically split the African-American and Latino communities on Long Island, despite dramatic growth in these communities over the last 10 years. Dividing, or “cracking,” these communities into multiple districts is a tactic clearly aimed at protecting the nine Republican incumbents who represent Long Island in the Senate.
The argument for accepting these maps is that we will fix the problem in the future. But the proposed constitutional amendment is simply too weak to work. The amendment would set up a commission appointed by politicians whose work could be edited or even rejected by the legislature. Even worse, the commission would be susceptible to deadlock and political pressure.
Furthermore, we would be accepting these bad lines on a promise, since the constitutional amendment would have to pass the legislature again next year before the voters could consider it. Since so many legislators have broken their promises on this subject already, I don’t understand why we are so sure they will keep their promise and vote for an amendment again next year, when the pressure is off.
Compare the Legislature’s political machinations, last-minute announcements and strategic heel-dragging to the work of magistrate judge Roanne Mann, the special master already overseeing our congressional redistricting after the Legislature failed to develop congressional lines in time to prepare for a June congressional primary. Judge Mann has announced clear deadlines, has openly named the experts she will be consulting and has articulated legitimate, explicit criteria for the maps she will produce. She has set a standard for what New Yorkers should expect in redistricting, a standard the Legislature has refused to meet.
Newsday’s editorial board stated it perfectly: “New York could still get fair political boundaries this year, but for it to happen, the special master, the judges and Cuomo are going to have to stand tall and make the difficult, proper decisions.”

Liz Krueger is a State senator who represents the Upper East Side.

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