Governor Cuomo Releases Redistricting Reform Act of 2011

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Source: Liz Benjamin / Capital Tonight

Well, it’s finally here.  Governor Cuomo has released a Redistricting Reform Act of 2011 that would put many of the ingredients for independent redistricting into law in advance of the 2012 elections.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos released the following statement in response to the Governor’s bill:

The issue of redistricting reform is an important one and I have said repeatedly that we will act on reform legislation.  A number of proposals have been advanced and we have to take a close look at what makes the most sense to ensure a fair, open and truly nonpartisan process.

Cutting government spending, reducing taxes, providing property tax relief and creating private sector jobs are critically important issues that impact every family and business in this state.  That’s why our focus right now must be on getting a fiscally responsible budget enacted by April 1st, which is just 43 days away.

You can read Liz Benjamin’s full coverage here, but below is an excerpt of the salient points of the bill, which you can read in full:

Under Governor Cuomo’s proposal, the members of the Independent Redistricting Commission would be chosen by the legislative leaders from a bi-partisan pool of qualified candidates that reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. That pool would be chosen by a bi-partisan nominations committee selected by the executive and legislative branches. At each step of the appointments process, the decision-makers must consult with organizations devoted to protecting minority and other voters’ rights and must adhere to criteria to ensure the independence of those who draw the lines.

Requirements for service include being at least four years removed from being a member of the Legislature or Congress, a legislative or executive chamber employee, a political party official, or a registered lobbyist.

The commission would be required to hold a series of public hearings throughout the state. Prior to its first hearing, it would post on its Web site extensive information concerning the plans under development and the data involved in order to facilitate public review, assessment, and critique, and the development of alternative plans.

After public hearings, the Legislature would approve or disapprove the commission’s plans without amendments. If the proposal is rejected, the Commission would submit an amended proposal after hearing the reasons given by the Legislature regarding the first plan’s rejection at a public hearing. The second plan would be voted on by the Legislature, again without amendments. If the second proposal is also rejected, the Commission would submit a third plan following further hearings. The third plan would be subject to amendments that must comply with specific criteria, including the protection of minority voting rights, and could not affect more than two percent of the population of any district.

If the courts are called upon to review the current district lines and the redistricting plans being considered, this bill would require that the court assess which plan most faithfully serves the criteria set forth below as part of its determination. Together with the other protections in the bill, this provision would help to ensure that the district lines that are ultimately adopted reflect the independence, concern for minority voting rights, and attention to equal representation that the commission would provide.

The Commission’s redistricting plans would be drawn according to the following requirements, subject to the requirements of state and federal law:

  • All congressional districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable;
  • Districts shall be contiguous;
  • Districts shall not be established that are intended to or result in a denial or abridgement of minority voting rights including the opportunity of minority voters to participate in the political process, and to elect the candidates of their choice, including but not limited to minority populations with the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice without comprising a majority of the district; and
  • Districts shall not be drawn with an intent to favor or oppose any political party, any incumbent, or any previous or presumed candidate for office;

Subject to the requirements above and those of state and federal law, all redistricting plans would be drawn according to the following principles:

  • To the extent practicable, the most and least populous senate and assembly districts shall not exceed the mean population of districts for each house by more than one percent;
  • Districts shall unite communities of interest;
  • To the extent practicable, counties and county subdivisions shall not be divided in the formation of districts; and
  • To the extent practicable, villages shall not be divided in the formation of districts.
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