New York Gov. Cuomo unveils redistricting reform legislation
By Greg Janetka
ALBANY, New York: Gov. Cuomo unveiled a plan today to establish a permanent Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw boundaries for New York's congressional and state legislative districts. The bill, known as the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, addresses ever increasing calls for such reform in the state.
In a press release Governor Cuomo stated, "Redistricting in New York is a system that has prioritized incumbency and partisan interests over democratic representation. This process needs to be about the people and not the politics. To help restore faith in our State government, we need to reform the system. This bill ensures greater independence, transparency, and a commitment to fair representation and equality."
Under the plan, the process of creating the commission would begin with the executive and legislative branches nominating a bipartisan pool of qualified candidates. From that pool, legislative leaders would select the members of the commission, being sure to reflect the state's geographic, racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. In order to serve on the commission, members must be four years removed from serving in the legislature or Congress, being a legislative or executive chamber employee, political party official, or registered lobbyist.
The Commission would hold a series of public hearings, with extensive information about plans and related data available online. Following the hearings, the Legislature would vote on the Commission's plan without amendments. If rejected, the Commission would submit an amended plan and the Legislature would vote once again with no amendments. If rejected a third time, the Commission would submit another amended plan, but it would be subject to amendment by the Legislature.
The Commission would have to meet specific requirements when drawing districts, including making them "nearly equal in population as practicable," contiguous, respectful to the rights of "minority voters to participate in the political process, and to elect the candidates of their choice, and not intentionally "favor or oppose any political party, any incumbent, or any previous or presumed candidate for office."
Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D) pledged his support for the bill, calling for its immediate passage when the legislature returns on February 28. He stated, "Governor Cuomo has introduced legislation that keeps his commitment to reform, and I am calling on the Senate to do the same by immediately passing his legislation when we return to Albany."
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R), who signed the NY Uprising pledge for redistricting reform, issued a statement saying that "The issue of redistricting reform is an important one and I have said repeatedly that we will act on reform legislation. A number of proposals have been advanced and we have to take a close look at what makes the most sense to ensure a fair, open and truly nonpartisan process." However, he went on to say that it should not be the top priority, "our focus right now must be on getting a fiscally responsible budget enacted by April 1st, which is just 43 days away.
Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver (D), who did not sign the pledge, said, "We are reviewing the governor's program bill and remain committed to working with governor and our colleagues in the Senate to reform redistricting in time for the upcoming redistricting process."
Former Mayor Ed Koch, who has championed reform, stated, "I am pleased that Governor Cuomo is upholding his promise to institute comprehensive redistricting reform, and I expect every lawmaker who signed the NY Uprising pledge to do the same. This legislation would replace the current 'incumbent protection program' and partisan gerrymandering with a system based on independence, sound criteria, and greater citizen involvement. I urge the Legislature to move quickly and pass this long overdue reform."
Across the nation, there are 11 states that use some form of a redistricting commission to impact the redrawing process.
- New York Governor's Office, "Governor Cuomo Announces Legislation to Establish Independent Redistricting Commission," February 17, 2011
- Capital Tonight, "Sampson On Cuomo’s Redistricting Bandwagon," February 17, 2011
- New York Senate, "State Senate Majority Leader Skelos Statement" February 17, 2011
- The New York Observer, "Cuomo’s Independent Redistricting Plan Gets Mixed Response From Lawmakers," February 17, 2011