Monday night, the Albany County Legislature approved a law that creates a new independent redistricting process.
Legislators gave the greenlight to overhaul the redistricting process following decades of court challenges. An independent redistricting commission will work with a majority-minority district subcommittee to redraw lines in a bid to avoid more lawsuits.
Albany County was sued for violations of the Voting Rights Act after each of the last three U.S. Censuses.
Republican legislator Mark Grimm voted against the measure. "With the census coming up, we have to have some kind of plan to redraw the map according to population shift. The legislature voted 28 to 9 for the redistricting plan."
Democrat Andrew Joyce is the Chair of the Legislature: "It took a lot of discussion, a lot of back and forth. A lot of hard work on behalf of the prime sponsor and I'm excited to get to work."
Delmar Democrat Joanne Cunningham was the primary sponsor of the proposal, which creates an independent nine-member redistricting commission. "We enacted a redistricting process that is new to the Albany County Charter so it in fact will replace the redistricting process that's in the Albany County Charter right now. And what's different about it is it has a lot of language to ensure that the political insiders are kept out and that there is a commission created of nine individuals who will be expert in the field, have experiences in the redistricting field, and in essence, be folks that won't be connected politically to any of the sitting Albany County legislature. So what we tried to do is kind of de-politicize the process."
Cunningham says the language of the law provides for transparency and public accountability. Grimm says the Republicans were opposed to it. "Because the Republican Minority Leader gets just one of the nine appointments, and that does not sound independent to me. We need a commission where both parties have an equal say in the appointment, and that didn't happen, so that has us concerned about how fair this process is going to be."
Republican Minority Leader Frank Mauriello elaborates on the make-up of the commission: "There are four people that would be appointed. One person would be appointed by the majority leader, one by the minority leader, one by the chairman of the legislature and the other by the chairman of the black legislative conference. Those four in turn would select the other five for a total of nine members. The issue we have here is that the four can select members by a simple majority vote. There would be three Democrats that would be appointed and only one Republican. What we're advocating for is to have the other five people selected by a unanimous vote of the four. So this way I think you have better representation by all members of the commission, versus just by Democrats."
The next stop for Local Law O: a public referendum. Again, Cunningham: "So it will be on the ballot in November. Once it's approved by the public, then it will go into effect for the 2020 census process. So the census has to take place, the data has to be collected and then the Albany County process of creating a commission to redraw the district will take place."