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Change to redistricting on election ballot

By JOHN WHITTAKER

jwhittaker@post-journal.com

Democrats say a proposed amendment to the state constitution changing the state’s redistricting process is a chance to improve on the previous process. Republicans say the amendment is a blatant power grab by Democrats.

Voters statewide will have the final say, starting with early voting through Oct. 31 and in-person voting on Nov. 2.

WHAT THE PROPOSITION DOES

Portions of the state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 would be amended and repealed. Among the changes are allowing the co-executive directors of the Independent Redistricting Commission to be appointed by simple majority vote with no consideration of party affiliation, eliminate alternative means of appointing co-executive directors and co-deputy executive directors and remove the requirement the two co-executive directors be from different political parties.

It freezes the number of state senators at the current number of 63 and requires Assembly and Senate districts to be based on total state population, including non-citizens and Native Americans if the federal census fails to include them. Incarcerated people would be counted at the place of their last residence instead of the place where they are incarcerated, though this change is already part of state law.

Most notably, the process for drawing and approving Congressional and state legislative districts would change for 2022.

The proposed amendment removes a requirement that at least one commissioner appointed by each party vote on a plan for it to be moved forward, instead creating a 70% approval requirement regardless of party affiliation. If a plan does not receive the required seven votes, the proposed amendment sends the redistricting plans with the most votes to the state Legislature for approval, with a 60% majority required for legislative approval.

Also removed are approval thressholds that vary based on the political affiliation of the Senate and Assembly leadership.

ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR

According to the League of Women Voters, reasons to approve the amendment include the change to the counting of incarcerated individuals, the requirement to count non-citizens and Native Americans if they are not counted by the federal census, a more simple procedure for the commission’s voting rules, removal of partisan basis for voting procedures and changes to the timeline for plans to be submitted to the legislature because subsequent legislative changes made the 2014 timeline obsolete.

“This proposal is a proposal to give the voters an opportunity to improve the redistricting process that they previously approved,” said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Tarrytown. “There was a lot of criticism about the constitutional amendment that we passed back in 2014 from both sides of the aisle from all around the State. But as some of my colleagues have pointed out, it was a compromise. It was the best that we could do at the time. But as we now approach the implementation of that process, several problems have surfaced, things that people spoke about before. This change that we are proposing would make the process more consistent with the Democratic process based on majority rule and protection of minority rights. This is, first of all, not an attempt by the Legislature to subvert the voter’s choice. This will give the voters the opportunity to reconsider what they did before and perhaps improve it. This is not the Legislature attempting to subvert the voters. We are going to give the voters an opportunity to come out and vote on this in a year when there’s not a lot of other big issues out there, where they’re not going to get confused by a gubernatorial election or by a Presidential election. They’re coming out to vote on local issues, and this will be one of the Statewide issues that they can look at, discuss, and make a determination on. Every voter will have a right to come out and take a look at this and cast a vote.”

ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE AMENDMENT

According to the League of Women Voters, reasons to vote against the amendment include that the proposed constitutional amendment unfairly empowers the majority party by preventing the minority party from having input on the final redistricting maps. The amendment also repeals the special legislative voting rules in place in case one party controls both legislative houses – as is the case now — which require a redistricting plan to be approved by two-thirds of members in the Assembly and Senate. A simple majority – which Democrats have in each house — could approve a redistricting plan in case of a deadlocked Independent Redistricting Commission.

The amendment also takes away voting rights of minority party-appointed commission members in appointing the commission’s executive directors and reduces the role of the Independent Redistricting Commission in the process by giving more power to the state Legislature.

“Make no mistake, this legislation is nothing more than a raw political power grab. It systematically eliminates critical components of the current constitution that require bipartisanship,” said Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, on the Assembly floor. “And then there’s some sleepers in here, aren’t there? This Constitutional amendment makes it clear that those who are incarcerated in our State prisons who cannot lawfully vote because they’re serving time for a felony, are counted in the district in which they last resided for the purposes of allocating seats. If you check the data, you’ll see a substantial majority of the people who are incarcerated in our prisons come from New York City. So, that means we are going to credit all those folks to New York City legislative districts so that the legislators in those districts can represent fewer law-abiding residents than everyone else. But those numbers are small compared to the other change which changes the Constitution which previously said in allocating representation that we exclude aliens. Aliens include those who are here legally with permanent resident status, or a Green Card, who are working, about a million people in New York State. And there’s another half a million people, over half a million people, of illegal immigrants. So, what’s that mean? By the way, I don’t have a lot of those in my district. Don’t have a lot of those folks Upstate. They tend to be located in New York City and our large, metropolitan areas. So, what’s that mean? If each of us is representing 100-and, you pick the number, 130,000, that means there’s ten to 15 seats that are being created by that change in New York state — in New York City representing people who can’t vote, who have no citizenship.”

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