Monday, June 29, 2009

Political Power and Dominance Beyond the Coup

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story about the impact of the state’s shifting demographics on gridlock in Albany, predicting that population increases in urban areas will lead to a larger Democratic majority after the 2010 Census.

The article mentions Republicans’ efforts to combat this trend in 2000 by packing as many urban voters into as few districts as possible while creating more rural districts of lesser population, but its author does not seem to think that this could happen again. We aren’t so sure.

Some have speculated that a primary motivation for the June 8th Senate coup was control of the redistricting process, which occurs once per decade. And while the legislative leadership-appointed commission that redraws district lines must keep the population of each district roughly equal, there are all sorts of ways for those in charge of redistricting to game the system to grant the dominant party more control. Those in charge of the redistricting process can and often do dilute votes by packing voters together or dividing them among several districts, enhance power by creating oddly-shaped districts with the “right” partisan demographics, and divide communities of shared interest.

The ability to singlehandedly appoint a third of the members of the state’s redistricting commission (the Speaker of the Assembly appoints another third) is just another unique power of the Majority Leader that has, as we’ve said before, made the fight for leadership of the Senate so bitter.

When we consider ways to ensure that the chaos of the coup doesn’t happen again, working toward a more independent redistricting process merits serious consideration.

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