This week we conclude with the advancements made by Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters of New York State.
6. What criteria must be considered by the Commission in the drawing of district lines?
In addition to the threshold requirements that proposed districts be contiguous, compact and as close to equal in size as practicable, for the first time the state constitution will include criteria that requires:
- that districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents, particular candidates or political parties;
- consideration of communities of interest in drawing district lines;
- protections for racial and language minority groups in the drawing of district lines consistent with existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, ensuring those protections remain regardless of what happens at the federal level; and
- proposed legislative districts that are not equal in population must be accompanied by an explanation by the Commission.Current Process:
LATFOR must first follow federal law which requires adherence to the Voting Rights Act and the creation of state legislative districts whose populations are within 5 percent of the average size district. The constitution also requires that districts be contiguous and, as is practicable, compact, and provides that counties and towns cannot be divided under certain circumstances.There are currently no prohibitions in the state constitution that prevent lines from being drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents, particular candidates or political parties, an important safeguard against the current practice of regional gerrymandering. Nor are there provisions that require communities of interest to be considered as a criterion for drawing lines.7. Will the legislature get to draw the lines if it votes down the Commission’s plan?
The legislature will only be able to amend the lines if the Commission’s plan(s) fail to achieve legislative approval after two “up or down” votes without amendments, but the legislature is restricted to changes that adhere to the criteria in the constitutional amendment. An accompanying statute further restricts the legislature from making changes that affect not more than two percent of the population of any district.
Current Process: There are no restrictions on their ability of the legislature to amend the plan, which is essentially guaranteed passage, as the majorities of the legislature control LATFOR.
8. What process will there be for public input?
The amendment will require 12 hearings across the state ensuring public input in line-drawing. It will also require the provision of maps and data to the public in a form that allows for independent analysis and the development of alternate redistricting plans.
There are no requirements for hearings, although LATFOR has held them voluntarily. There are no requirements for maps and data to be provided to the public, although LATFOR has provided maps and some data but not done so in a form that is easily accessible by the public or facilitates development of alternate plans. LATFOR has not made software for drawing maps available to the public.
9. Why has there not more been public input on the constitutional amendment?
Various proposals have been introduced in the legislature through the years and have been the subject of input by the public, including good government groups and civil rights groups. Redistricting has been the subject of hearings in both the Assembly and Senate for the past several years, and the issue has been covered extensively in the media. Constitutional amendments must be voted on twice by two successively elected legislatures, and then passed at the ballot box, providing for more review and giving the public an opportunity for participation in this reform.
The degree to which hearings are held on bills varies. The constitutional amendment, which was passed in 2012 and 2013 by the legislature, has had more time for review than a typical bill, and the voters will also get to decide in 2014 at the ballot box.
10. If this constitutional amendment is passed, how would New York be positioned among the 50 states in how it conducts redistricting?
We believe that this will put New York in the forefront of redistricting reform,, particularly among states that cannot achieve reform through voter initiated referenda. Most states leave redistricting completely in the hands of the legislature. Even in Iowa, which has been a model for independent redistricting, the legislature has final approval of the lines.
In the majority of states, the legislators directly draw the lines. New York has an advisory body, LATFOR, an entity that exists in law to advise the legislature on line-drawing. Because four of six of its members are legislators it is essentially legislators drawing their own lines. Consequently, New York is not even close to being a leader in independent redistricting.