November 4th is Election Day. Even in a presidential election year, about 40% of eligible voters do not cast a ballot. The League began with the fight for the vote for women and continues to believe in the importance of the vote to a democracy and as a vehicle for change. The League works to register eligible voters, to educate and engage voters and to protect citizens' right to vote. Vote411.org is the League's most recent vehicle for getting information to voters. Legislatures in a number of states are passing laws reducing voting days or requiring picture IDs to vote, making it difficult to register and vote. Leagues are actively fighting against these efforts to limit the vote. In New York, the fight is for redistricting reform.
As well as voting for US Congress, NYS Governor, NYS Assembly and Senate and city and county offices, voters in New York will vote on three propositions. Proposal One, a Constitutional Amendment on New York State Redistricting, is actively supported by the New York State League. The amendment will revise the redistricting process for state legislative and congressional districts--something that the League has been advocating for 40 years. Currently the drawing of district lines is totally partisan, controlled by the major parties in the Legislature. "Artful" drawing of district boundaries, gerrymandering, results in districts lacking population equality, compactness, or contiguous territory, but "safe" for incumbents. The present process has been called "a major form of disenfranchisement". (Wang, Sam; "The Great Gerrymander of 2012", NYT Sunday Review: Feb. 2, 2013) An examination of seven states in which one party controlled the drawing of district lines, showed that, because of the way district lines were drawn, two parties could get essentially the same number of votes, but the party that controlled the redistricting process got more than twice as many of its candidates elected. Partisan redistricting is largely responsible for the fact that New York has one of the highest incumbent return rates in the nation...close to 95%. Since 1970, in over 4000 elections, only 40 incumbents have failed to be reelected. Essentially politicians get to select their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians.
The proposed constitutional amendment will accomplish several things. It will:
- Establish a ten member independent Commission with representation of the minority party, third parties and independents. Rules prohibit those with conflicts of interest from serving.
- Add important criteria for drawing district lines to the State constitution including preserving the rights of language and racial minorities, recognizing communities of interest and prohibiting gerrymandering.
- Curtail dominance of the process by the majority party by requiring supermajority votes in both the Commission and the Legislature for approval of district lines.
- Make the process more transparent. Software, data and maps are required to be provided to the public to allow independent analysis and creation of maps by the public.
- Establish firm deadlines for the different stages of the redistricting process.
- Add constraints on the Legislature's ability to amend the lines proposed by the Commission in an accompanying statute.
Though not perfect, the amendment improves the current system; future improvements can be made. It is the closest we have come to improving the process in 40 years of trying. To vote no is to say yes to gerrymandering and to the same partisan process we now have.
Ruth Bonn, Lead
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Lead for May 2015-July 2015