Give redistricting a chance

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Feb. 1

The Independent Redistricting Commission approved by state voters back in 2014 (do you remember doing that?) is not perfect, but it should be given a chance to work as is.

For time out of mind, New Yorkers let state legislators redraw their own districts after every new 10-year census tracked population shifts. That seems crazy, doesn’t it? They came up with some pretty wild-looking gerrymandered shapes as they drew safe havens for themselves — Republicans in rural areas, Democrats in cities — and tried to isolate their opponents, maybe even eliminate their districts. But the Independent Redistricting Commission takes that power away from the politicians themselves, which is great — and it needs to be preserved.

This independent commission has never been used before, as redistricting occurs once every 10 years and we established it six years ago.

Nevertheless, now that Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, they are trying to change a bunch of the redistricting rules to benefit them, before the rules even get used for the first time.

They have passed a constitutional amendment with various rule changes and put it on the ballot for the November election. Voters will have the final say — again.

The Democrats’ move shouldn’t be surprising. “To the victors go the spoils,” goes the old saying, and in this case the Democratic victors are going to find a way to draw legislative district boundaries in a way that benefits them. Republicans did it for decades when they controlled the state Senate. Democrats now want to take their turn.

This change reeks, though, in part because the Independent Redistricting Commission has not yet been given a chance to work. It was created after the last set of district boundaries were drawn, and this year was to be its trial run. Here in New York state, the appearance of independent redistricting hasn’t gotten off the ground yet.

The commission has 10 members, non-politicians chosen by Legislature leaders of both major parties: four chosen by Democrats, four chosen by Republicans and two chosen by the other eight.

They will draw redistricting maps, which must be approved by the Legislature — and that’s where it gets political.

If the Legislature passes the commission’s proposal, fine. If not, the commission gets a second try. But if lawmakers reject two versions of the commission’s maps, yep, you guessed it — they get to draw up and pass maps of its own.

Republicans, back when they held the Senate majority, wrote a rule into the approval process to help them stonewall a redistricting plan they didn’t like. The rule says that if the Senate and Assembly are controlled by different parties, a plan can pass with a simple majority, but if one party controls both chambers — something Republicans feared the Democrats might get, but which the GOP had little chance of anytime soon — the new districts would need a two-thirds supermajority to pass. Now that Democrats do, in fact, have majorities in both houses, and they are trying to nix the supermajority requirement.

But that’s not the only change in the amendment. Democrats are also trying to count incarcerated people as residents of the last district they lived in before being imprisoned rather than as residents of the prison itself. People in prison can’t vote, but they’re used as political tools. Count them in their prison towns, and they give more numbers — and ultimately more representation — to rural areas. Count them in their former homes, even if they haven’t lived there for years, and they will necessitate urban areas to get more representatives and rural reps to be spread more thinly.

Democrats are also trying to rewrite rules about how many of the 10 commissioners are needed to pass a redistricting plan, and several other changes you can read about in our Jan. 25 report by Aaron Cerbone.

While there is room to quibble over each of these changes, we don’t like to see the party in power flexing its muscles to rewrite rules that have never even been used. How about we try them out first and see how they work?

Rather than reintroduce partisan politics into the process, the state should try to uphold a redistricting system that is truly independent.

At a time when Americans are asking politicians in Washington to tone down their partisan attacks, here in New York we politely continue beating the drums.

One-party rule is a bad idea. So is letting politicians draw their own districts. An independent redistricting process is a worthy ideal. Let’s move forward in that spirit.

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