NY electoral maps defy democracy


Latfor3.JPGCrains New York Business – Two weeks ago, the legislator-led task force known as LATFOR, charged with redrawing New York state’s electoral lines, produced a set of maps that might well be described as an incumbent protection program. Both Democratic and Republican majorities went out of their way to protect their political interests to the detriment of the public interest.

Measured against three criteria, LATFOR’s maps egregiously disadvantage minority communities, abuse the federally mandated principle of “one person, one vote” and violate the constitutional provision to avoid dividing counties whenever possible. The maps completely undermine the essence of our democracy and must be revised to reflect the demographic reality of New York state.

Fortunately, there’s a solution.

In December, Common Cause/ NY produced a set of maps to offer the public, the governor and the Legislature an alternative vision of what a nonpartisan landscape might look like.

We drew maps according to good-government criteria to reflect the demographic reality of how people live and associate, to achieve close parity of district size (+/-3%) and to comply with state and federal mandates including the Voting Rights Act.

Most important, perhaps, we drew our maps without respect to where the incumbent lives. As is often the case, LATFOR’s districts are gerrymandered to suit the residential and political needs of the incumbent, allowing elected officials to choose their voters, as opposed to the other way around.

In New York City, LATFOR’s districts are, in some instances, worse than the current ones. The Upper West Side�of Manhattan, a vibrant and cohesive community of interest, is already split among three Senate districts. The proposed plan actually adds a fourth, which would snake from the South Bronx to East Harlem and across Central Park. In contrast, the Common Cause reform plan keeps the neighborhood contained within a single district.

Similarly, in the�Bronx, the proposed plan exacerbates the existing lack of compactness and denies the dominant Latino community a potential fifth district, which the Common Cause plan creates.

LATFOR’s so-called Asian district in Queens includes more of downtown Flushing–and although the district’s population is more than 50% Asian on paper, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund has criticized the task force for splitting neighborhoods and communities such as Elmhurst. It doesn’t have to be this way.

By Susan Lerner

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