New York election officials must reword a November ballot question on the creation of a redistricting commission to avoid misleading voters into thinking it would be independent, a state judge ruled Wednesday.
Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath’s ruling orders the state’s Board of Elections to delete the word “independent” from the description of the proposed commission. McGrath noted that top legislators would appoint eight out of 10 members of the commission and that the Legislature could reject its redistricting proposals and substitute their own.
“Legislative semantics do not change the reality that the commission’s plan is little more than a recommendation to the Legislature,” McGrath wrote in his ruling. “Therefore, this Court finds that the term “independent” is misleading, because the creation of the commission, its procedures and its ultimate outcome are all subject to control by others.”
A message was left Wednesday seeking a response from the Board of Elections.
State political districts are redrawn every decade in a process that good-government groups have long said is designed to protect incumbents. Sitting state lawmakers have been defeated in elections only 55 times in the thousands of legislative races held in the past 30 years.
This year’s ballot referendum asks voters to authorize a new commission to handle redistricting beginning in 2022. That’s the next time the state’s political districts will be redrawn to account for population changes.
Common Cause-New York, a government watchdog group, sued to challenge the wording of the referendum, arguing that the use of the word “independent” was deceptive.
“The redistricting commission cannot be described as independent because it isn’t,” Susan Lerner, executive director of the group, said following Wednesday’s ruling. “As the Judge made clear, this commission would only be a proxy for the Legislature. Voters deserve the same straight talk when they go to cast their ballot in November.”
Lerner’s group has urged voters to reject the proposal, which was supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top lawmakers. But another good-government group, Citizens Union, supports the approval of the referendum, saying it’s a “chance to vote for real reform in Albany.”