Did you know...?
- Only 34 incumbents have been defeated in New York state legislative elections since 1970.
- After challenger Hakeem Jeffries won 41% of the 2000 primary vote against 20-year incumbent Roger Green, the district lines were redrawn, leaving Jeffries’ residence just a block or two outside of Green’s new district.
- Since 1995, New York's legislators are just as likely to die in office as lose in a general election.
October 17 marked the last of three scheduled statewide redistricting hearings, aimed at soliciting ideas for reforming New York's partisan linedrawing, which is widely considered to be among the nation's most anti-democratic. New York Republicans and Democrats have essentially entered into a gentleman's agreement for decades, ceding control of the Assembly to the Dems, while giving the GOP reign over the Senate. Given the scant likelihood of split-ticket voting between legislative bodies, the current redistricting process has become the primary culprit (though ably assisted by campaign finance and ballot access rules also sorely in need of change).
The hearings, held in New York City, were attended by several members of the Assembly, with all but one serving on the Governmental Operations subcommittee (the exception was Michael Benjamin, Assemblyman from the Bronx). The Brennan Center (and several other groups) made several general points about the process. First, the redistricting system, as-is, skews electoral outcomes by investing power in those who stand to benefit from how lines are drawn; voters would be better served a non-partisan commission insulated from political influence. Second, any such body needs to be representative of the diversity of New York State, in addition to creating districts that where minorities can be effectively represented. Third, counting prisoners as residents of the cities where they are incarcerated is extremely problematic for several reasons, including the fact that the practice boosts the population in upstate districts, which would otherwise be unconstitutionally underpopulated.
Our comments were well received, and echoed by groups including NYPIRG, Demos, and the Voting Rights Consortium. The hearings also saw members of non-partisan commissions like Steven Lynn, the Chairman of Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission. His testimony, and that of others, helped develop a fuller public record that will be critical in making the case for reform. The Brennan Center looks forward to working with both legislators and other advocacy groups on redistricting reform in the near future, using proposed legislation and the hearings as a very helpful starting point.
Categories: General, Redistricting