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Editorial: Kill Albany's electoral districts amendment

A voter marks his ballot via cell phone

A voter marks his ballot via cell phone light at the generator powered First United Methodist Church in Oceanside, New York. (Nov. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

New York State's electoral redistricting process is a disgrace, and the current political boundaries it created are an insult to voters. But a constitutional amendment advertised as the remedy -- and likely to be approved for a voter referendum this week -- in many ways would be worse. It deserves to be defeated.

In Nassau County, the redistricting system is every bit as broken. And no one in a position of real power is even pretending to want a fix.

Incumbency and party have always been the primary considerations in creating Assembly, Senate and congressional districts every 10 years, when census results are released. The same is true of county legislative districts. Throw in enough of a tip of the hat to civil rights reforms to keep judges from tossing out maps, and you've got a system where the politicians draw lines to choose which voters they want to represent. An independent system, one in which the voters choose which candidates they want to represent them, would be better.

That's what voters were promised in the redrawing of state Assembly and Senate boundaries before the 2010 elections and last year's redistricting. Practically every sitting senator, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), pledged to support an independent process. But once that election was past and the Republicans regained control of the Senate, Skelos backpedaled. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also said in early 2012 he would veto maps not created by an independent commission, but reneged.

In Nassau, a ham-handed attempt by the Republican majority to draw the county's 19 legislative districts two years early was tossed out by the courts. Now, commissioners appointed by both county parties have come up with separate, gerrymandered maps, without ever getting together. The Republicans appear set to approve maps that will disenfranchise minorities and divide single communities into separate districts.

From Albany, what the voters got last year was another set of gerrymandered, mostly uncompetitive Assembly and Senate districts, along with a new promise: This is the last time, honest. The very bad maps were to be approved at the same time as a supposedly good law and identical constitutional amendment to guarantee that maps adopted in 2022 would be nonpartisan. Instead, voters got bad maps for another decade, and a bad law and constitutional amendment that, if passed, would pretty much guarantee nothing ever improves.

The proposed amendment breaks too many principles of nonpartisan redistricting. The commission it creates would consist of people largely chosen by legislative leaders. It would have an even number of members, making stalemates likely. It would demand seven of 10 members present to convene a quorum, meaning four unhappy members could guarantee inaction at any time. And it would still kick maps back to the legislature for final approval -- and let the legislators draw their own if the commission failed to approve any. The drawing of electoral districts for localities, counties, the State Legislature and Congress should be done by independent commissions that protect the people's rights. It's been done in states like California and Iowa. It's what voters should demand in Mineola, and in Albany. No solution, or bad ones, aren't acceptable.


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