Albany County legislators gathered outside the county courthouse this morning to kick off what they say will be the most independent, inclusive redistricting process in the panel's history.
Like state and Congressional lines, Albany County’s legislative districts must be adjusted in accordance with the relative population growth and shifts reflected in this year's federal Census.
Previously, three consecutive redistricting plans had to be redrawn after legal challenges contended the maps minimized minority voting power by failing to recognize increases in minority populations.
Friday, legislators outlined the next steps in the formation of the Albany County Commission on Redistricting as well as the newly formed Majority-Minority Redistricting Subcommittee, which is to draw the lines once the Census is completed.
Legislature Chair Andrew Joyce, a Democrat, describes the process as "inclusive, equitable and independent."
"Qualifications and the restrictions on who can serve is pretty significant. We're political people and we operate in political circles, so it's difficult for me to even rack my brain to come up with an individual I would think would serve. I know there's a lot of qualified people."
Democratic Legislator Joanne Cunningham of the 34th district says there are three points crucial to successful redistricting.
"First, the census. It is not too late to complete the census. For folks who are listening or reading about this right now, if you're not certain you completed the census, go to the census website or look for the folks in your community that are going door-to-door. It's critical that we have an accurate counting of Albany County residents. So please complete the census, it's not too late."
The search for committee members will be accomplished online.
"Second, we are about to launch a website where folks can find out about the redistricting process and submit their name, if they meet the non-political criteria to be a part of this process. That is a critical point that I hope the press will emphasize. I hope that this website will be shared widely because this is a process where we need to ensure that Albany County residents understand that they can play a part in this."
Cunningham says the third point holds up a mirror to the events we are experiencing today.
"We are at, right now in America, in New York, in Albany County, an inflection point about race and about racial and social justice. Not just in the criminal justice system but also across all systems that we have in place. Health care, housing, everything that we do. We have, an opportunity right now to get it right for Albany County with respect to our local redistricting process. We need to make sure that we have individuals who are on this commission that are laser-focused on preserving the voting rights of every citizen, but very mindful of the specific voting rights of our persons of color community."
The Albany County Legislature is one of the largest in the state, with 39 members, and it drew headlines when a white man, Democrat Sam Fein, won the minority-majority sixth district in 2015.
Mindful of the legal tangles that tripped previous efforts, Joyce contends the new initiative is on the right path.
"Well nothing's bulletproof. We just need to make sure that we're following all the processes set in place in the legislation. So we appoint some folks to the commission. We do our job and we walk away."
And as for a timeline...
"We're letting Albany County residents know about the website and application that they can submit to serve on this commission. So their work needs to be complete by next year, and that everything to be lined up by 2023 so we can redraw the legislative district maps."
Those interested in serving on the Commission or MMD Subcommittee can complete the online questionnaire on the Legislature website at: www.albanycounty.com/redistricting