EDITORIAL: Redistricting is vital to fair elections

Hearing on redrawing of legislative districts is an important first step

With coronavirus, the prospect of reopening schools and business, police brutality and racial unrest, and your own day-to-day living experience, we venture to say that state redistricting reform is pretty far down on your list of priorities.

Even the name is boring.

But the decisions made with regard to this reform in the next year — starting with legislative hearings beginning next week — could affect who represents you in the state Legislature and Congress for the next decade, and therefore who has the power to make the laws and budgets that directly affect your life.

And that’s nothing to yawn at.

In a report issued in 2014 by the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause/NY, the two nonpartisan good-government groups harshly criticized New York’s system for drawing state and federal legislative boundary lines.

The report said the system was antipathetic to fair elections and democracy because it protects incumbents and essentially allows politicians to select their voters instead of the other way around.

Among the findings in the groups’ report were that districts are drawn based on population to favor Republicans upstate and Democrats downstate; that districts are bizarrely drawn to rope in voters of specific political parties, with little regard for municipal boundaries and communities that share common interests; and that the unfairness in the redistricting process helps create a system of incumbency protection, which discourages challengers and makes it difficult for outsiders to compete.

It’s vital that lawmakers create a new system for designing boundaries that addresses these issues and makes the state’s political system fair and open.

The NYPIRG/Common Cause report made several recommendations for reform, including establishing a truly impartial and independent redistricting commission to protect against political favoritism, protects minority rights, respects political subdivisions, and helps keep neighborhoods and communities that share historic, religious and ethic/racial qualities intact.

Next Wednesday’s joint legislative hearing, which will be livestreamed on the Assembly and Senate websites, is an important first step in that process.

This all might seem boring now.

But it won’t be so boring if we stay on the sidelines and allow them to get this wrong. 

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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