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Blair Horner: The Court Strikes The Word "Independent" From Prop 1

Last week, New York State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath struck down proposed language for the upcoming Proposal 1, which is a referendum question that amends the state constitution to change the state redistricting process.  The vote on Proposal 1 will be on the ballot this November.

Citing the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the judge said that Prop 1's description of the proposed redistricting Commission as "independent" was inaccurate.

In the ruling, Judge McGrath found the language was misleading since the proposed commission “cannot be described as ‘independent’ when eight out of the ten members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy.”

The judge is right: The proposed redistricting Commission is as "independent" as a puppet.  The redistricting Commission is appointed by the Legislature, its plan must be approved by the Legislature, and if its plan is rejected, the Legislature ultimately draws its own lines.

The decision is an important one.

Voters will hear a lot about the supposed virtues of Prop 1; don’t believe them.  In fact, the plan is worse than even the miserable status quo.

The proposal – a classic Albany deal – purports to reform the state’s redistricting process by adding interesting and even laudable measures about transparency and access to redistricting data.  However, any value of the new redistricting plan ultimately hinges on the decisions of the new Commission created under the proposal.

Voters will hear about the limitations on who can serve on the Commission.  And it is true that lawmakers, their families, and lobbyists will not be allowed to serve.  But here is where the bamboozle begins:   The Legislature (meaning the leaders) still chooses the members of this Commission.  And if these individuals act independently, the Legislature is still the final decisionmaker of the redistricting plan.

Prop 1 allows the Legislature to approve the plan developed by their hand-picked appointees.  And here’s the kicker:  If the sitting legislators who will run in the districts don’t like the plan, Proposal #1 allows the Legislature to draw its own map.

And that is precisely the reason why Judge McGrath struck the summary language for Prop 1 – the plan does not create anything that could be described as “independent.”

But it gets worse.  The constitutional amendment requires that existing district lines must be considered in drafting the new plan.  No such requirement exists in the current constitution.  Forcing all future mapmakers to rely on the existing political boundaries enshrines the awful system New York has in place.

Proposal 1 makes New York's miserable redistricting system worse.  Proposal 1 requires future mapmakers to consider the existing legislative district lines.  Nothing like that is required now.

This proposal is not only cynical in that it masquerades as reform when it really is not, but it actually makes the system worse than it is now.  And once it is chiseled into the state Constitution, it is very difficult to remove.

New Yorkers should reject Proposal 1.  It is not reform.  It is merely the status quo masquerading as reform.  New Yorkers deserve neutral language when they step up to vote about whether to revise our fundamental charter, the State Constitution.  This language ain't it.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.



The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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