July 24, 2020
The New York State Assembly Minority Conference today criticized their Majority colleagues for their decision to cast aside a public referendum and eliminate any shred of equal representation on the Independent Redistricting Commission.
In 2014, New York voters and Democrat legislators overwhelmingly approved a Constitutional Amendment guiding the Independent Redistricting Commission. The guidance was intended to ensure political interests were limited, and full representation was present during the process by which election maps and district boundaries are established.
Today’s legislation stands in complete opposition to redistricting measures Democrats previously supported and nullifies the public referendum which also passed in 2014. As a Constitutional Amendment, the bill requires a second passage by the Legislature before moving to a public vote.
“It has become abundantly clear that the will of the people and public interest are far less important to New York Democrats than their own self-preservation. It’s tough to measure the amount of hypocrisy it takes to support a bill today that they argued passionately against just a few years ago,” said Minority Leader Will Barclay (R,C,I,Ref-Pulaski). “Every part of this is offensive. The votes and voices of New Yorkers were thrown out and determined to be meaningless. Democrats jumped at a chance to usher in a generational change to New York’s elections with virtually no public review, during a legislative session conducted online with debate time cut in half. Their actions have literally nothing to do with the public good, with sound policy or with the basic principles of fair and equitable representation. What we saw today were Democrats obsessed with extending their misguided, one-party rule that drives up taxes, drives up crime and drives New Yorkers away.”
“For the Democrats to undermine the will of our voters in a transparent effort to gerrymander new, partisan district lines is just wrong. I urge them to reconsider,” said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning), the Conference’s representative on the Legislative Task Force on Research and Reapportionment. “In 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum requiring a two-thirds majority in both houses to authorize new boundaries for legislative districts created by a bipartisan commission. Voters passed a constitutional amendment because they wanted a fair, bipartisan and independent approach to the redistricting process. Democrats want to take this in the exact opposite direction. Their efforts to lower the threshold of votes needed to pass redistricting legislation eliminates minority party participation by allowing the bill to pass without their consent undermines the entire process. Their legislation would also allow members of the commission to draw lines without input of members from both parties. This was not the intent of the independent commission that was approved by the voters of this state in 2014. They were clear, they want fairness and they want balance. This is a power grab that would upend our Democracy and erode public confidence in our governing institutions.”
Reapportionment of legislative districts occurs every 10 years. The procedural changes approved by Democrats today include major revisions that eliminate full representation of all legislative conferences and ensure that only one political party is needed to approve final plans.
• Under current law, for a plan to receive approval of the Independent Redistricting Commission, it must have seven “Yes” votes. Because the speaker of the Assembly and temporary president of the Senate are members of the same political party at the moment, such approval must also include votes in support by at least one member appointed by each of the legislative leaders. Today’s legislation reverses that requirement, allowing a redistricting plan to be approved by the Commission with a simple seven person vote in favor of a plan, diminishing the input of the minority party in the process and eliminating the requirement that at least one member appointed by each of the minority leaders approve the plan.
• Democrats also lowered the threshold for a redistricting plan to pass in the Legislature. Currently, if a plan is approved by the Commission it is submitted to the Legislature for approval, which, in the event the speaker of the Assembly and temporary president of the Senate are members of the same political party, requires a vote of approval by at least two-thirds of the members of each house. This proposal would drastically diminish that voting threshold, and require only a majority vote of each house for passage of a plan that is approved by the Commission (or 60% vote if the Commission fails to obtain the necessary votes for approval).