The Clock is Ticking, But There is Still Time for an Independent Redistricting Commission in New York

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to veto new political lines if not drawn by an independent redistricting commission. With such a stance, he obstructs the process and insults New Yorkers’ intelligence. Dismantling the current bi-partisan redistricting taskforce and appointing a civilian independent commission, would be a more genuine show of his intentions. It would also be the reform New Yorkers want.

As mandated by the New York State Constitution, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) is composed by six members: two non legislators and four bi-partisan members committed to their respective Democratic and Republican Parties. The membership of this taskforce doesn’t reflect the ethnic diversity of New York State, which could be the subject for another blog. Out of its six male-only members, there are four Whites and two Puerto Ricans: Michael F. Nozzolio (Co-Chair), non-legislator, Welquis R. Lopez, Assemblyman John J. McEneny (Co-Chair), non-legislator, Roman Hedges, Assemblyman Robert Oaks and Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.

The NYS Constitution prescribes that the final recommendation of the Task Force must be approved by the NYS Legislature and the Governor. As a well trained lawyer and savvy politician, Governor Cuomo knows very well the meaning and negative connotation of the term “partisan” in the U.S. political system. He also knows that partisan members of any taskforce will support their respective party’s stance and politicking, disregarding righteousness or the rule of law. Incumbents fight to preserve their job and most of all for partisan advantage. The right thing to do for the benefit of all New Yorkers is to remove politicians from the process.

The Governor’s current stance to veto the bi-partisan taskforce decision sounds hypocritical to me.

It would take a snap of Governor Cuomo’s fingers to call a meeting of the legislature before Christmas, and appoint a non-partisan independent commission on redistricting. Legislators would be summoned to Albany for a special session, and real work would begin.  Governor Cuomo hasn’t done that yet.

LATFOR’s main responsibility is to draw congressional and state legislature lines, which it has not done so yet. It’s scheduled to announce the new lines by the end of November 2011.

Once the Task Force, the NYS Legislature and Governor Cuomo approve the new lines, the U.S. Department of Justice takes more than 60 days to review, accept or reject them and to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The deadlines for the 2012 primary and general elections are looming as well. According to the New York State Board of Elections, the presidential primary is scheduled for April 24, and the state primary for September 11.

With a slow-as-a turtle redistricting process, it seems Governor Cuomo, the redistricting task force and the State Legislature will fail to meet their obligation and deadlines, as mandated by the NYS Constitution, to have new lines ready before the presidential primary election.

The clock is ticking on New York State.

A remedy would be to take over the slow-going redistricting process from the taskforce. If Governor Cuomo is not willing to do that, New Yorkers and interest groups should go to court and request that an independent commission finishes the task. Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislative should give the task to non-partisan New Yorkers and experts. Iowa did it already.

In Iowa, a small group of people were appointed to a non-partisan independent redistricting commission and given rules to follow; they sequestered themselves for a few weeks, and drew the maps. It was as simple as that!

A similar move could work in New York.  There are five months to go before the presidential primary. There is still time for an independent redistricting commission to take over in New York.  If not, New Yorkers will have to wait for another decade for serious redistricting reform.

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