New York State Legislature's proposed new State Senate electoral districts,...

New York State Legislature's proposed new State Senate electoral districts, released March 12, 2012 Credit: New York State Legislature

For the past few months Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's stance on new electoral districts has been that he wants better State Senate and Assembly lines for the next decade, and an overhaul of how maps are drawn in the future. If such options are ever on offer, we'll applaud Cuomo as he signs them. But as it stands, the districts for the next decade that the State Legislature put forward in the middle of the night Sunday and the accompanying proposal that would govern the future drawing of boundaries aren't good enough. The governor should reject this latest version of the incumbency protection act.

The revised version of the Assembly districts submitted by a legislative task force contains some real improvements. The proposed Senate maps, though, still make it almost impossible for minority voters, particularly in Rochester, to exert political influence commensurate with their numbers. That's also true on Long Island, where minority votes are being diluted in Wyandanch, Babylon and Islip in Suffolk County, and in Roosevelt, Uniondale and Hempstead in Nassau.

A new 63rd Senate seat, which belongs in New York City if it is to be created at all, is still upstate on the amended maps, a maneuver that dilutes downstate voters' power by packing far more of them into New York City's Senate districts than in upstate ones, where each voter's power will be magnified.

The plan submitted by the legislature's Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment continues to put incumbency and the interests of the ruling Assembly Democrats and Republican Senators ahead of the rights of voters.

The constitutional amendment that has been promised to change the process in 2021, when new maps are again drawn, is far from what it needs to be. Worded to allow legislators to change the maps as much as they want after a new, bipartisan, non-legislator committee draws them, it will not, as written, guarantee much improvement.

To work properly, the amendment should include the kinds of protections other states have adopted: rules that say the legislators' adjustments could not move more than 2 percent of voters in any district; members of the redistricting commission who would not be picked, directly or indirectly, by legislators; a commission that would have an odd number of members, and districts that would be very close to equal in population. In addition, a new state law meant to reform the process if the Senate and Assembly do not pass a constitutional amendment this year and next, or if the amendment is not approved by voters, hasn't even been written yet.

Cuomo said early on he would veto gerrymandered lines. Now, he says his hand isn't strong because legislators think they can get maps close to what they want from the federal court that would get involved after two gubernatorial vetoes. And if it comes down to it, legislative leaders would rather tell members they're going to lose seats because they lost in court than because they folded to the governor.

Cuomo may have to settle for an imperfect deal, but it would have to be far better than this to be worth signing. As things stand, he should veto it. That won't guarantee things will turn out better, but it's a stronger play than accepting unfair maps for the next 10 years, or a bad redistricting process forever.


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