When it came time to put together the New York state budget deal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had many priorities. Among them was an expanded DNA database for criminals, several new casinos, pension reform and, oh yes, let us not forget independent redistricting.
Under the current system, our state Assembly representatives and Senators draw their own district lines every 10 years, usually under threat of last-minute court action. Since the Assembly is dominated by the Democrats and the Senate is ruled by the Republicans, they draw their own lines to protect their own members. The results are bizarre-looking districts designed to split undesirable voting blocs and prevent serious challenge to the status quo.
The result is a legislative body filled with members beholden only to their own party, not their constituents, lest they be on the outs when it comes time to draw their district.
But this time it was going to be different. Cuomo had promised to veto any redistricting plan not created by an independent commission.
When it came time to pass the budget, the governor got some watered-down pension reform. He got his casinos. He got the expanded DNA database. But voting rights in the form of independent redistricting was nowhere to be found — and the self-serving district maps were approved.
Cuomo declared victory and suggested he had, in fact, achieved much-needed reforms for the future. He claimed he had helped “create an independent and bipartisan panel [to] ensure a fair and objective process.”
But a close look at what was passed shows the truth. The legislature remains in charge of drawing its own lines. There is no independent entity like the courts to ensure fairness, as in other states like Arizona or California. The group that will draw the lines will be picked by and answerable to the legislators.
In a recent statement, representative Kevin Cahill said, “Tonight the State Legislature had the opportunity to begin to restore public faith in our electoral system…. Instead, many chose to perpetuate the kind of gerrymandering that has done nothing less than disenfranchise the voters of New York.” Cahill voted against the redistricting legislation and has called for real reform.
Foxes guarding the hen house. Mice guarding the cheese. Call it what you will, but when elected officials get to pick their voters instead of the other way around, democracy suffers.