One of New York’s most urgent needs, dating back for decades, has been an independent redistricting policy that takes politicians out of the task of choosing who votes for them. In his 2010 campaign for governor, Andrew M. Cuomo promised to do that. He didn’t.
But now, he and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly are about to foist on the public a sham redistricting policy that will, if they have their way, be written into the New York State Constitution. It’s a disgrace, especially for Cuomo, who had pledged to change redistricting for the better. This makes it worse.
The proposal, which will go to the public for a referendum, basically leaves the politicians in control of redistricting, the process by which district lines are redrawn after each census to ensure equal representation. It does this in several ways:
• It creates a commission to draw the lines, but the appointments to the commission are made by partisan interests. In addition, the commission is composed of an even number of members, creating the likelihood of tie votes.
• If a plan does make it out of the commission, either chamber of the Legislature could vote it down. After two such votes, the responsibility to draw the lines would revert to the Legislature instead of the courts.
• The proposed amendment’s quorum requirements would allow an interest group to block action simply by not showing up.
This is a con job. It is a design not only to retain political redistricting, but to enshrine that insult to democracy in the state Constitution, and to do it under the guise of reform.
The State Senate completed the charade in December, approving the amendment and sending it to voters who must decide in 2014 whether to sanction this assault on their rights. They need to reject it.
This maneuver on redistricting offers clear evidence that, however much Albany may have improved in some ways, it remains the self-protective beast it has always been. Leaders of the Senate and Assembly want nothing to do with independent redistricting. They want to be able to gerrymander the lines so that they can diminish the ability of voters to throw them out of office. That leaves them free to pay greater attention to the special interests that fill their coffers with donations, and it’s one of the main reasons New York is an expensive state to live in.
It’s hardly surprising that leaders of the Legislature are trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. It is extremely disappointing that Cuomo is a party to this disgrace. He has performed many admirable services as a governor willing to challenge Albany’s status quo. This was not one of them.