A local law that would create an independent redistricting process is scheduled to be voted on tonight by the Albany County Legislature. Local Law O seeks to create a non-partisan, independent redistricting process in Albany County following the next federal census in 2020.
Minority Leader Frank Mauriello is a Republican representing District 27, encompassing the most western portion of the Town of Colonie, including the Pine Bush and the Central Avenue business corridor. "Every 10 years after the census, all the county legislature lines are re-drawn to reflect any shift in population. What we want to make sure is that when these lines are re-drawn they're done, really, on a non-partisan basis.
Merton Simpson, a Democrat, is the legislator for District 2: Arbor Hill, Sheridan Hollow, West Hill and Washington Park in the city of Albany. "For the last previous centennial censuses, you know every 10 years there's a census, Albany County has been sued for violations of the Voting Rights Act."
Mauriello says "The members of the minority in Albany were not happy with the way the districts were drawn in the city and they did sue the county and successfully so, for the last three redistrictings, for the last 30 years, so we wanna make sure this time when it's done it's done properly."
Simpson believes people are obsessing about “an independent redistricting commission.” " I think they're looking for a kind of independence that is really illusory. In other words, the argument is that 'Well we want people who are not highly connected to a political affiliation.’ The problem with that is, you don't need a jury of uninformed people. You need people who have some sort of understanding of the complicated nature of redistricting."
Mauriello notes the Republicans have some issues with the law. "The primary concern is how members are selected to the reapportionment commission. As of right now, 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."
Mauriello says he thinks his conference will be voting no; that's at least 10 votes on the 39-seat body.
Simpson thinks it will pass, even if the general public doesn't grasp the importance of redistricting. "Our funding is directly related to a proper count of the people that need to be represented. And so when you misrepresent the areas of need, the people who have the most need, then you have a direct diminishment of the resources that you need. So it's critically important that we have the most accurate count."
Simpson adds there is another factor to weigh: Local Law M, introduced by Albany Democrat Chris Higgins, is also up for a vote. It proposes reducing the body from 39 to 29 members after the census. Simpson argues that proposed law makes no sense. "The problem being, for some strange reason people think this redistricting issue, when it comes to majority/minority districts is an arithmetic problem. It's really a geography problem, meaning that the lower legislative districts 1 through 6 are basically in a two-mile radius. When you consider the expanse of how large Albany County is, it becomes a serious problem to say you can maintain the appropriate number of districts representing appropriately the majority/minority districts when your geographic area is expanding but the people are still in a very small area."
Prior to the regular 7:30 p.m. meeting of the Legislature, sponsors of Local Law O, members of the legislature and community advocates plan to gather outside the Albany County Courthouse to discuss the measure, followed by a 6:30 p.m. public forum.