November 6, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – On Election Day, voters casting ballots for Proposition 1 did so in a bid to end the kind of gerrymandering that typically makes painfully awkward districts look like something Salvador Dali might have conjured up on a bad day. But whether or not things have really been made better with the introduction of a new redistricting system is unclear.
The next time New York State starts redrawing district lines in 2021, the task will not be left to a couple of Democratic and Republican party bigwigs from the State Legislature. Instead, barring some interim modifications, it will fall to a commission of 10, mostly appointed by a few Democrat and Republican party bigwigs from the State Legislature.
“There are aspects of [the new redistricting process] that are better than the awful status quo, but in its totality, it’s worse,” says NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner.
NYPIRG, along with Common Cause and other supporters pushed hard to defeat Proposition 1, partly because they believe the newly established commission it requires will ultimately be powerless, leaving well-heeled politicos to continue controlling the outcome of redistricting.
DC 37, SEIU 32BJ, PEP and the RWDSU, all urged union members to vote “no” on Proposition 1, but to no avail.
“It’s important for people to know that the opposition made a strong statement,” says Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner. “More than a million voters stood up and said they wanted to see real reform in Albany.”
Although disappointed with the passage of Proposition 1, opponents maintain that many more opportunities remain for reformers to “roll up their sleeves and try to make this deeply flawed system work.”
“It’s possible that we might be able to get the legislature and governor to agree to additional changes to strengthen reform,” Horner says.
An Albany Supreme Court judge has already ruled that the new redistricting commission "cannot be described as 'independent' when eight out of the ten members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy.”
Critics of Proposition 1 also maintain that the new system continues to place minor political parties at an unfair disadvantage, while precluding the possibility that any heavily gerrymandered district could ever be scrapped and redrawn from scratch.
“Unless minor parities are closely aligned with major parities, they won’t play much of a role,” Horner says.
Proposition 1 supporters, however, insist that the new redistricting rules will not only attract an increased number of candidates, but a better crop of candidates as well because “districts will no longer be drawn to discourage competition.”
“In the past, redistricting discouraged challengers,” says Citizens Union Director Dick Dadey. “But if the lines are drawn more fairly, candidates will feel like they stand a better chance of challenging the incumbent because these districts will be fair fights.”