As an organization that has spent decades advocating for reforms to New York’s broken redistricting process, NYPIRG believes it is momentous that there is a proposal to amend the state constitution and enact a state law in this area. A constitutional amendment and law could create a new paradigm for drawing state legislative and congressional districts lines for the future. NYPIRG has identified two broad principles for reforming the state’s redistricting process: independence of the mapmakers and establishing clear, objective criteria to limit gerrymandering. We believe these principles, in conjunction with those secured by the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, are essential to providing the public with assurances that maps were constructed fairly. As the difficulties of creating a truly independent redistricting commission became apparent, our primary focus has been on establishing objective, verifiable criteria that would constrain a line-drawing commission to the greatest extent possible. Over the past year, we have released a report examining the possibility of requiring district lines to have smaller population deviations; provided several testimonies before LATFOR that focused on population discrepancies; and analyzed the lines proposed in February through the lens of population variance. The focus on objective criteria in the form of tight limits on population deviation between districts derives from the principle of “one-person, one-vote,” first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decisions in Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which ushered in the modern era of redistricting. Close adherence to the one-person, one-vote standard not only equalizes the voting strength of individual voters within the various districts, it limits the ability of mapmakers to engage in the well-developed practices of “cracking” and “packing” districts for partisan gain. Unfortunately, the federal courts have not required exact population equality in state legislative districts— in fact the courts typically allow deviations of up to 10% between least and most populous districts. Nevertheless some state governments have taken the initiative to require minimal population deviation in their districts. We recognize the proposal represents a potential paradigm shift in the way the redistricting process would take place in New York. It also would articulate a policy against drawing lines for partisan advantage. However, without the inclusion of stringent objective criteria we cannot say with confidence that it will lead to a better product in the form of fairer district lines that result in greater public trust in the maps. Accordingly, NYPIRG’s long-held position does not allow us to support this proposal.

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