“There was no voter revolt, only apathy, in the mid-term election. Leadership must come from the top. If we wait until January to address redistricting alongside other reform measures, its impact will not be felt until after the 2020 Census,” says Samuels

New York, NY – Today Bill Samuels, founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative called on Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo to make passing a Constitutional Amendment on independent redistricting an urgent priority during the December Special Session in Albany, which starts next Monday.

“If a redistricting amendment is not passed during the special session and instead addressed only alongside other needed reforms measures in January, it could have no meaningful effect until after the 2020 Census, which is a decade away,” said Samuels. “Such a potential timetable is unacceptable to New York voters and would demonstrate that past promises for redistricting reform by Albany leaders amount to nothing more than empty promises and election year posturing.”

Samuels stated that, “in truth there was no real ‘voter’ revolt in New York during the mid-term elections. Instead voters were so turned-off that New York State had the lowest turnout in the nation. Issues like independent redistricting are very complex and change will only occur if there is immediate, decisive leadership from the very top in Albany.” According to a recent article in The New York Times, New York voter turnout for a midterm election was the lowest in three decades and the lowest in the nation. Voter participation in New York ranked below Utah and Texas.

Samuels explained that time is of the essence because Article III of the New York State Constitution  vests legislative power in the Senate and Assembly and the final responsibility for redistricting in Sections 2 through 5-a of that Article.  Since the legislature’s power to set the boundaries of districts through redistricting is constitutional, no relevant statute can seek to diminish that power, circumvent it, or take it away.  Therefore, any solution that does not include an accompanying constitutional amendment can be easily ignored or replaced by the legislature.

This means that a new redistricting statue passed after Jan 1, 2011 continues to leave the legislature with the opportunity to gerrymander. During the campaign, Governor-elect Cuomo pledged and most likely will, veto any such gerrymandered redistricting plans presented by the legislature.  This leaves the distinct possibility that redistricting will ultimately be decided once again by the courts, as it was after the 1990 and 2000 census.  In both instances, the court unfortunately ruled to uphold the gerrymandered redistricting plans.

In 2002, Samuels was a benefactor of the lawsuit that challenged the redistricting of State Senate District 34 in the Bronx, a seat occupied by Republican Guy Velella, on the grounds of racial discrimination. In that instance as well, the court upheld the gerrymander redistricting plan.

In order to amend the New York State Constitution in accordance with Article XIX, an amendment must be passed by two successive, separately elected legislatures. That means an amendment passed this year during the 2009/2010 General Session and next year during the 2011/2012 General Session could be on the ballot as early as November 2011. However, if such an amendment is passed in January 2011, the second required vote can only occur in 2013, leaving the possibility that permanent redistricting reform would not take effect until 2020 at the earliest.

And while the independent redistricting legislation put forth by Senator David Valesky and Assembly Member now Senator-elect Michael Gianaris, S.1614-B/A.5279-B, meets many of the requirements of the New York Uprising pledge, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo’s “New NY Agenda: A Plan for Action,” where he voiced his support, and the New Roosevelt Initiative pillars of reform, it too, has one fatal flaw.

Their legislation provides for an independent redistricting commission that is empowered to put forth three redistricting plans.  The first two must be voted up or down by the legislature without amendment.  However, in order to keep the legislation constitutional, a loophole was included for a third redistricting plan that would be introduced if the first two failed that may be amended as necessary by the legislature.

To that end, Samuels praised the approach, though not the specific amendment, put forth by Republican Assembly Member James Tedisco in a recent letter to Governor David Paterson calling on lawmakers to take up the redistricting issue next month during their special session. Tedisco pointed out it is the only way that a Constitutional Amendment can be passed and placed on the ballot by November 2011, just in time for redistricting in 2012.

“While I cannot judge prejudge the prioritization of the urgent issues that confront Governor-elect Cuomo, such as the state budget gap or jumpstarting the economy,” Samuels said. “I can say that from a reform point of view, it is important that voters and local good government groups understand the immense risk of not taking action during the special session issues.”

For more information about the New Roosevelt Initiative, go to www.newrooseveltinitiative.com

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