Monday, November 3, 2014

A look at Proposal One: Redistricting

This three-part series concerning New York’s statewide ballot items concludes this week with a look at Proposal One, which reads as follows:

“The proposed amendment to sections 4 and 5 and addition of new section 5-b to Article 3 of the State Constitution revises the redistricting procedure for state legislative and congressional districts. The proposed amendment establishes a redistricting commission every 10 years beginning in 2020, with two members appointed by each of the four legislative leaders and two members selected by the eight legislative appointees; prohibits legislators and other elected officials from serving as commissioners; establishes principles to be used in creating districts; requires the commission to hold public hearings on proposed redistricting plans; subjects the commission’s redistricting plan to legislative enactment; provides that the legislature may only amend the redistricting plan according to the established principles if the commission’s plan is rejected twice by the legislature; provides for expedited court review of a challenged redistricting plan; and provides for funding and bipartisan staff to work for the commission. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?”

This change to the State Constitution was proposed in response to allegations from the electorate and government watchdog groups that the redistricting process in New York State was corrupt and broken and being used only to serve the needs of the elected and not the electors, ensuring that the party in power was given a district with a voter make-up as such that long-term job security of the incumbent was a given. To anyone even remotely familiar with the makeup of their districts, this was both true and patently obvious.

The best example of this locally was the now defunct (as of 2013) 28th Congressional district that was held by Louise Slaughter. It was gerrymandering at its finest – and most ridiculous. The district was shaped like an earphone and it kept Democrat strongholds Niagara Falls and Rochester held together by a thin strand of lightly-populated Republican towns along the Lake Ontario shore. This guaranteed a tight grip by Slaughter or any other Democrat who would have run in her place.

Such manipulation would allegedly be curtailed under the proposed change to Constitution which would strip the Legislature of holding the primary responsibility in setting-up districts, passing it on to a special commission.

The redistricting commission would be composed of ten members, two each appointed by the temporary president of the senate (the language of which reflects only the current make-up of a divided Senate), the speaker of the assembly, the minority leader of the senate, the minority leader of the assembly and an independent committee of eight legislatively-appointed members (the two appointed by that committee could not have been enrolled in the top two political parties in the state in the five years prior).

According to the State’s abstract, the proposed amendment would establish principles to be applied in creating districts, which must be drawn consistently with the requirements of the federal and state constitutions and federal statutes. These principles includes the direct statement that districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties (which obviously has never been the case).

New to this proposal, too, is the requirement that the commission hold twelve public hearings across the state during the process of redistricting, ensuring public participation.

After consolidating such input, the commission would send a redistricting plan to the Legislature, given that seven out of ten commission members have approved the plan. Then, other-anti-corruption measures kick-in which indicate what the make-up of the “yea” votes must be if one party controls both houses.

The commission must then submit its redistricting plan for the Assembly and the Senate in one bill and the Legislature must vote upon that single bill without amending it.

If the plan does not pass the Legislature and get the Governor’s approval or a veto override, the commission must submit another plan. If the second plan does not pass the Legislature and get the Governor’s approval or a veto override, the Legislature can amend the second plan as it deems necessary. So, there’s always a slim chance we’ll be right back where we were. It’s a lot to of change to consider.

It’s not a perfect proposal, but it’s a start and a long time coming. It’s up to you and your fellow voters to determine if it passes muster.

From the 03 November 2014 Greater Niagara Newspapers  

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