Proponents say the measure would “once and for all take the politicians out of the process of re-drawing their district boundaries, correct a flawed history of minority disenfranchisement and avert millions of dollars of legal costs to Albany County taxpayers”
ALBANY COUNTY—The last two times legislators re-drew district lines in Albany County, they faced legal censure and incurred significant financial penalties after federal courts found they overtly discriminated against the county’s minority populations.
In the wake of the last fiasco, which took more than four years and nearly $2 million to ultimately settle, residents and reform-minded legislators intensified their call for an independent redistricting body.
While proponents of the status quo claim there is no such thing as a truly independent redistricting body (due to the fact members would likely be chosen by elected officials) or that it’s the job of elected leaders to draw district lines, a group of legislators from both sides of the aisle have introduced a plan they say would “create the first truly independent redistricting commission in Albany County history and one of the first in the state.”
“For three decades Albany County has been sued and lost court cases because gerrymandering and partisan politics took precedence over voting and civil rights,” said Legislator Joanne Cunningham (D-34.) “Let’s take the politicians out of the process and let the voters pick their legislator, not the other way around.”
Drafted by a group of 19 Democrats, Republicans and a Conservative, the proposed ‘Local Law No. W’ would create a commission composed of nine members, with no more than four from any one political party. It would also include representatives from the League of Women Voters and the NAACP to ensure that the concerns of citizens of minority districts are represented.
Two district maps would be prepared for the commission: one of the entire county and the other of the majority-minority population districts in the county— after merging the two maps, the commission would then make a recommendation to the Albany County Legislature.
The commission would be required to adhere to the following redistricting principles:
Districts must comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act
Residences of incumbent legislators or challengers may not be identified or considered
Party registration and voting history data shall be excluded from the maps;
Commission will be prohibited from having ex parte communications with legislators
Districts must be contiguous, compact and consistent with existing municipal boundaries
Neighborhoods can only have a population deviation of no more than 2 percent
The commission would have a separate budget and an independent staff and will be empowered to hire legal counsel with voting rights experience.
The local law is subject to a public hearing, and if approved by the whole legislature, will go on the ballot for a public referendum on Election Day 2017.
Another redistricting proposal, introduced by Legislator Peter Crouse (R-24) and supported by all five members representing minority-majority districts, known as Local Law No. V, is also before the legislature for consideration. Currently, both measures are before the Law Committee for review.