True Redistricting Reform Will Not Give Any Political Party Or Branch Of Government An Advantage
Legislative column from Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua)
March 4, 2011
Every decade, once the federal census is complete, boundaries for State Assembly and State Senate districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in New York’s population. The Majorities in the state Legislature control this process, also known as “redistricting,” or “reapportionment” with one goal in mind: preserving their political power. The result is a highly politicized process where boundaries are drawn favoring whichever party has a majority in each house. Unfortunately, clinging to political power is the name of the game in Albany – even at the expense of good government. CURRENT REDISTRICTING PROCESS IS A “RIGGED GAME” The current redistricting process is a clear-cut example of Albany walking the razor’s edge of political corruption – and a vivid reminder why voters have become so disillusioned with their state government. When Albany political bosses and backroom deals dominate the redistricting process – and districts are redrawn giving one party a distinct advantage – voters are denied fair and competitive elections. Simply put, when elections become a rigged game, democracy loses. Our representative democracy is too important to fall prey to Albany’s petty partisan politics. Since our nation’s founding, thousands of American patriots have risked – and given – their lives to preserve our democratic principles. Fair and competitive elections cannot be an afterthought, they must be a core principle when it comes to redistricting. I believe we should scrap the current redistricting system and take partisan politics – along with any concerns about preserving majorities – out of the equation. Drawing Assembly and Senate district boundaries without concern for politics will ensure elections are 100 percent fair and competitive. Trust in the voters to make the right choice and let the chips fall where they may. “YES!” TO AN INDEPENDENT LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION In order to achieve this important goal, I have long championed the creation of an Independent “Legislative Redistricting Commission,” to draw Assembly and Senate lines in a completely non-partisan, non-political manner. Having an independent panel draw all 150 Assembly and 62 Senate districts without giving any political party an edge would go a long way toward taking politics out of redistricting and restoring some much-needed credibility and fairness to the process. MY RECOMMENDATIONS TO MAKE GOVERNOR CUOMO’S REDISTRICTING LEGISLATION A BETTER BILL Governor Cuomo recently introduced legislation that mirrors my long-time support for establishing an Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission to help remove partisan politics from this process. The Governor’s program bill, the “Redistricting Reform Act,” is a welcome addition to this discussion and represents a serious effort from the Executive Branch to fix the system. While I support many parts of the Governor’s proposal, we respectfully suggest a few key improvements. On Friday, February 25, I sent Governor Cuomo and my fellow Legislative Leaders in state government a letter outlining specific modifications to make the Governor’s legislation a better bill. My recommendations called for the following:
- Provide No Advantage to Any Political Party or Branch of Government: We must make certain that a Redistricting Commission does not provide any advantage to either political party, and that both the Legislative and Executive Branches have an equal say on the Commission and its composition;
- Ensure Geographic Balance: Long Island, the North Country and Southern Tier should serve as locations for redistricting public hearings to ensure this process provides a true geographic balance of New York State; and
- Follow the Constitution: Ensure that prison inmates are counted where they are presently incarcerated, as our State Constitution requires.