Our Time Press – The process of changing boundary lines for electoral districts is a critical one and the Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) has been conducting a series of forums alerting the community to upcoming actions regarding the redistricting process. Moderated by election law and voting rights specialist Judge Paul Wooten, Dr. Esmerelda Simmons and Dr. John Flateau presented data on the importance of redistricting and community participation in the process.
Dr. John Flateau, a former member of the NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), former Commissioner of the NYC Redistricting Commission for the 2000 Decennial Census for the City Council, Chairman of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee for the African-American Population, and a special advisor for redistricting of the NYS Senate Democratic Conference said, “We are under a 90-day countdown; once the holidays are over the redistricting process will be complete, unless it goes to the judiciary. If redistricting does go to court, we (the people) will be out of the process except for advocates and experts.”
CLSJ Executive Director Dr. Esmerelda Simmons said NYS redistricting should be complete by February. But, said Dr. Simmons, “LATFOR has not stated their criteria and priorities in drawing the maps. Meanwhile, they have people all over the state drawing districts.”
The problem seems to be twofold. Redistricting advocates have not been told how many Senate districts there are going to be. Right now there are 62 Senate districts based on mathematical formula in the NYS Constitution. “If they go to 63,” said Dr. Simmons, “there is going to be a lawsuit.”
In addition, LATFOR has not yet released prison data as required by the Prison Adjustment Act of 2010, which states inmates must be counted in their home districts. LATFOR has scheduled a public hearing on Prisoner Count and Reallocation which will take place in Albany on Friday, Nov. 18.
“We don’t have the prison data and we don’t have the number of Senate seats,” said Dr. Simmons. “But we are supposed to come up with maps. We see a trap. No matter what you do you are wasting some of the time. And if you don’t do anything, you are imperiling the possibility that the district you want will get drawn and be recognized.”
Dr. Flateau said the community must carefully watch how the Prisoner Adjustment Act of 2010 (PAA) is implemented. PAA mandates that state prisoners – about 60,000, most of whom come from downstate (Central Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, Harlem and the South Bronx), accounting for one-third of all state prisoners – need to be counted from the neighborhoods they came out of, not from the current jail cell where they are temporary residents. “Implementing PAA without any political shenanigans is going to be a critical issue,” said Flateau. “It has not yet been resolved.”
In the meantime, CLSJ has embarked on the time-consuming process of working with community groups and advocates to create two tentative sets of maps. One map will have one less congressional seat upstate and one less congressional seat downstate. The other map will have two congressional seats cut from upstate.
“We will have two less congressional seats,” Dr. Simmons said. “The usual way it works is that Republicans give up one seat and the Democrats give up one seat. However, Republicans generally control upstate, Democrats downstate. But all of the increase in population has been downstate. All of the decrease in population has been upstate.”
Dr. Simmons asked, “Is it really fair that New York City should lose a congressional seat? As advocates, we’re going to tell them that they should take two seats from upstate.”
The Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Latino Justice PRLDEF, National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP), and the Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) of Medgar Evers College have released the Unity Map, a joint proposal for new state Assembly and state Senate districts in New York City that reflect the changing demographics and protects the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans. “The CLSJ has joined with other groups to see if we can come out with maps that are fair,” said Dr. Simmons.
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