STATEMENT OF THE NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE SENATE & ASSEMBLY

PUBLIC FORUM ON INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING ALBANY, N.Y. JUNE 7, 2011 Good morning. My name is Bill Mahoney and I am the Research Coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). NYPIRG is a statewide, not-for-profit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization. Since 1973, NYPIRG has been involved in a wide range of consumer protection, environmental preservation, higher education and government reform issues. For decades, NYPIRG has advocated changes to New York State’s redistricting process – calling for establishment of an independent commission, fairer standards, greater openness and more public involvement. NYPIRG thanks you for this opportunity to testify on this important topic. It is a critical time to hold this hearing. There are only six scheduled legislative days left in this year’s session. The decennial census data has been available for several months, yet there has yet to be any legislative action dealing with how to begin to reform the redistricting process. In order to complete the remapping before next year’s petitioning season starts - which might be at an earlier date than ever if the primary is pushed earlier to comply with federal law – action must not wait until 2012. New district lines should be carefully drawn to best serve the residents and communities of New York State. They should not be rushed through simply because a looming threat of judicial intervention hastens action. When they are completed, there needs to be enough time for public hearings across the state and for adopting any revisions that result from these hearings. A sense of how tight of a deadline the state is currently facing to conduct its redistricting can be found by looking at Governor Cuomo’s program bill to create an independent redistricting commission. This bill, like most similar ones, provides a timeline by which certain milestones in the process must be met: • By March 1st in years ending in “-10,” A list of eligible appointees to an independent commission must be named. For this year’s redistricting process, the date is pushed back to sixty days after the passage of the bill.

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By March 15th of years ending in “-11”, a draft plan must be provided to the public. This date is pushed back to September 15th in 2011. By May 15th, the final plan shall be introduced to the Legislature, which has seven days to vote on it. In 2011, submission must be no later than October 15th.

The fact that this year’s deadlines are already pushed months beyond what would be required in future decades is necessitated by the political reality that the mechanism for an independent commission was not in place in 2010. Pushing back the deadlines further by waiting to vote on this bill until next session would result in an even more rushed process with less of an opportunity for public input. Inaction will then became the rationale for action. Action on redistricting must not wait until next year. The overwhelming majority of sitting legislators have signaled support for an independent commission similar to the one proposed by the Governor’s bill, either through cosponsoring this or another bill on the topic, or by pledging to their constituents before last year’s elections that they would not support the continuance of our failed status quo mapdrawing process. Further, Governor Cuomo has promised to veto any new district lines that reflect partisan gerrymandering. While heartening, this widespread support for an independent commission should not be the only reason that it gets created this session. More important is the fact that the current method of complying with the once-a-decade line drawing process to comply with the oneperson, one-vote requirement has clearly failed the people of this state. The current system creates districts that vary in size by up to 10 percent, meaning that millions of New Yorkers have unequal representation in Albany. An analysis by NYPIRG of district populations created in the 2002 redistricting process found that State Assembly districts ranged in size from 121,111 people to 133,038 people, and State Senate districts ranged in size from 290,925 people to 320,851 people. The chart below illustrates the number of State Assembly and Senate districts that deviate from the ideal district size and by what percentages. Population Deviation from the “Ideal” (Average) Size Zero to 1 percent 1 to 2 percent 2 to 3 percent 3 to 5 percent Assembly 18 33 29 70 Senate 11 28 4 19

In the Democratically-controlled Assembly, mapmakers’ goal was to create the greatest number of districts in the New York City area. Thus, those districts had the smallest populations as compared to the upstate, Republican-dominated areas, which had the largest populations and the smallest number of districts. In the Senate, Republican mapmakers used the wide variation in populations to “pack” as many Democrats into as few legislative districts as possible. Mapmakers wanted to have the largest population districts in the Democratic-party dominated New York City-area. Thus they

could carve out as few Senate districts as possible. In the areas with the greatest number of Republican voters, mapmakers created as many Senate districts as possible – with the smallest population. As you can see, manipulation of the current 10 percent rule has allowed the legislative majorities to manipulate the redistricting process for their own partisan advantage. Manufactured population discrepancies are not the only way that recent legislatures have used their power to draw their own lines for their own benefit. Party enrollment is perhaps the factor weighing heaviest on district lines. Voters enrolled in the party that resides in the minority of each house are crammed into districts in which they have overwhelming majorities. This leads to less of them being in the districts given to the majority party, ensuring less competitive elections all around. As if that isn’t enough, recent redistrictings appear to have targeted specific individuals who have posed a threat to powerful incumbents by drawing those potential challengers’ houses into different districts. There have been several serious plans proposing to reform the process that have been introduced in recent years. Governor Cuomo has introduced a program bill that creates a bipartisan commission that creates significant distance from elected officials. Population discrepancies would be kept to a minimum and minorities would be protected. Various legislators, including Assemblymember Jeffries and Senators Gianaris and Valesky, have introduced similar bills that make serious attempts to guarantee a fair process and quality product. One proposal that is not a serious attempt to have a fair process in 2012 is to attempt to amend the constitution. While NYPIRG believes that this is the ultimate best interest of the state, it will not do anything to protect voters for the next decade. Several legislators have voiced opposition to any reform that is not accomplished through a constitutional amendment, and have advanced arguments that fail to withstand scrutiny. Some have argued that letting an independent commission outside the Legislature handle next year’s redistricting is unconstitutional. A memo by the law firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges strongly refutes such claims. The Legislature frequently creates administrative entities to help establish policy; an independent commission to create district maps would be similar to numerous existing entities.1 Secondly, supporters of the status quo have claimed that redistricting reforms will negatively impact upstate regions, such as those around Binghamton. However, one must keep in mind that some of the most underrepresented people in the state are those residing in the 18 Assembly districts north of Westchester, districts which have more than 129,000 residents. The current system clearly does not serve the interests of these residents of the North Country, Western New York, Central New York, and the Southern Tier. Additionally, the newest census numbers indicate that the proportion of the state’s Congressional districts allocated to upstate regions should be the highest since the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Continuing a system whose main goal is to protect incumbents could lead to several districts whose voter base is primarily located in New York City, yet reach out into area of the Lower Hudson Valley and Southern Tier, effectively negating this upstate shift. Simply put, more representative and compact districts will let legislators in every region of the state
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http://www.citizensunion.org/www/cu/site/hosting/news_release/040611_newsrelease_redistricting.html

better serve their constituents. Democracy is not an issue on which New Yorkers from different regions are divided. Finally, some legislators have claimed that map drawing is not an issue that most voters care passionately about. They occasionally point to an April 11th Siena poll that found that redistricting reform came in fifth on a list of issues that New Yorkers felt should be prioritized, with 8% of respondents believing that this should be the Legislature’s first priority. This lagged behind issues such as the property tax cap (37%), ethics reform (27%), legalizing gay marriage (12%), and an extension of rent control (12%). The real takeaway message, however is that this fifth-place landing is actually a sign of how popular redistricting reform is among New York residents. In one of the most challenging economic times in decades, the fact that 8% of New Yorkers polled feel that this somewhat wonky issue should be a priority above issues that directly impact their pocketbooks, such as a property tax cap and rent control, is nothing short of remarkable. Redistricting reform is a topic that combines the most boring parts of the fields of political science, cartography, and statistics. That 8% of New Yorkers so passionate about this topic that they think that this should be the state’s top priority for the year is a message that should not be lost on any legislator. The fact that an additional 27% of voters see ethics reform as the state’s most pressing issue means that more than a third of New Yorkers view reform as more pressing than the aforementioned economic topics. The slew of scandals in Albany in recent years has disillusioned the electorate; they are not confident that the current structure of state government is capable of adequately handling the problems they deal with. In order to combat this disillusionment, redistricting reform must pass this session, so that an independent body can fully involve the public in its creation of the district lines that will serve the state for the next decade. Thank you for convening this important public forum. working with you to achieve real redistricting reform this session. NYPIRG looks forward to

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