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Don’t ignore important redistricting

Redistricting has been called “the backroom blood sport of politics.” The good news is that it may be coming a bit more into the light in New York state.

Redistricting is the process of drawing legislative districts. By federal law, redistricting must occur following the census (every 10 years).

New districts must be drawn when a state gains or loses congressional districts as a result of the apportionment of congressional districts to the states (again, based on results of the census). Even if the number of districts does not change, governments must redraw districts so that districts have roughly equal populations. This happens at various levels of government, including our county’s legislative districts.

It is not too soon for our community to focus in on the process. Why? Because the outcome will determine who represents us. The outcome will affect our ability to choose a candidate who represents people’s concerns.

The manipulation of the redistricting process in order to keep and expand political power is called gerrymandering, and it allows officials to select their voters rather than voters to elect their own officials. Gerrymandering does not happen by accident. When done to ensure the dominance of one political party, it runs counter to equal voting rights for all eligible voters. Redistricting has a direct bearing on what issues a legislature chooses to take on or ignore.

At its best, redistricting can be an enormously powerful tool for empowering people to engage in democracy. It is a core pillar of keeping democracy strong.

Conversely, redistricting can amount to “backroom blood sport” for voter suppression. Districts have been “cracked” and “packed” to dilute citizen’s ability to elect candidates of their choice. “Cracking” spreads out the voters from a certain group across many districts, so that their influence is diluted in any given district. “Packing” concentrates a like group of voters together in excess, thereby reducing their influence on surrounding districts. Their votes are “wasted,” because there are more votes than necessary for the group to elect their preferred candidate of choice. Clearly, the process has not always welcomed transparency.

The League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County urges that we keep our eyes on the ball, to ensure that Fair Maps get drawn. Be attentive to the process as it unfolds.

At the local level, the Chautauqua County Charter directs that the Legislature shall… “within six (6) months after the publication of the results of each regular federal census, appoint a bi-partisan committee or commission to evaluate the existing county legislative districts.

Such committee or commission shall study the population data and, within three (3) months after appointment, make recommendations, if necessary, in the form of a proposed local law as to changes in the boundaries of county legislative districts to be effective at the end of the then terms of office of incumbent county legislators.”

The League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County urges the appointment of a well-qualified bi-partisan commission to create fair and equitable districting lines, through an open and transparent process based on constituent input and testimony. The League urges all eligible voters to engage in the process, speaking up for their community’s interests. The lines which are drawn will determine the districts that directly impact us for the next 10 years.

Be attentive, as well, to New York state’s support of its own Redistricting Commission. Over the course of its work, the Commission will be required to hold public hearings. It must hold 12 public hearings around the state, including in Buffalo. It is required to publicize the hearings well in advance. The Redistricting Commission must make public its draft plans, data, and other relevant information public by print and other means at least 30 days before the first public hearing. The public should be provided enough information to enable for adequate review and to develop alternative plans that can be presented to the commission at the public hearings.

This will be a once-in-10-years opportunity to make voices heard.

Mary Croxton is president of the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County.

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