Monthly Archives: June 2015

Albany Times Union: The Election Fix Is Still In

An excerpt from the Times Union Editorial Board:

“Our opinion: Once again, lawmakers leave town without tackling election and campaign finance reform. Why do they fear a more honest system?

The state Legislature left a big issue undone last week: fixing New York’s election system. That’s not to be confused, as the Legislature so often does, with fixing elections in New York.

This repair work is long overdue. But often standing in its way is the raft of other issues that come up in a legislative session, making the task easy to lose in the shuffle. And for too long, that has suited those in power just fine because this is a system designed to protect those in power.”

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Does Today’s Supreme Court Redistricting Decision Affect New York? No. But the Legislature Can Gerrymander the New Commission.

Today, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the right of states to create independent commissions to draw congressional districts. See Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission et al). By rejecting the Arizona Legislature’s argument that only the state legislature can redraw congressional plans, states are able to use independent commissions to redraw congressional districts independent of state legislative approval.

New York does not have an independent commission to redraw either state legislative or congressional districts. While a 2014 ballot referendum approved by voters creates a new redistricting “commission,” this commission will serve only in an advisory capacity. The state legislature will still be able to adopt, modify or reject congressional and state legislative plans the commission suggests and draw its own plans.

Despite arguments to the contrary, the state legislature will not be constrained by fair and objective criteria the advisory commission is required to use. Instead, the state legislature, after rejecting two successive commission plans, can do whatever it wants to do, plain and simple. This has the effect of perpetuating incumbent protection plans and defeats the purpose of independent commissions. Further, the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 federal approval requirements will not be in effect. Section 5 effectively served as a shield against certain legislative overreaching in New York City’ s minority communities. The U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5 enforcement several years ago.

If the legislature fails to adopt either the commission plan or a plan of its own, a state or federal court can step in and draw a plan, as happened in 1992 and 2012 (In 1992, the legislature adopted a state court drawn congressional plan to facilitate Voting Rights Act Section 5 preclearance and to prevent use of an already adopted federal court drawn redistricting plan almost nobody liked. In 2012, a federal court drew the current congressional plan).

In today’s opinion, the Court said “the people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have “an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people.” The Federalist No. 57, at 350 (J. Madison). In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore “the core principle of republican government,” namely, “that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” Berman, Managing Gerrymandering, 83 Texas L. Rev. 781 (2005). The Elections Clause does not hinder that endeavor. “

New York will not have an independent redistricting process unless state voters first approve a 2017 ballot question asking whether a state constitutional convention should be convened. If this happens, it will be up to a convention to create a truly independent commission and the voters to approve that amendment (or a new state constitution) on Election Day.

Unless that happens, the same process that has repeated itself over and over is likely to remain. The New York Legislature can gerrymander the commission.

To read the decision, click here Arizona Decision.

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Cohoes Redistricting Mapping Problem Nixes Council Candidacy?

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist reports in today’s Times Union that a redistricting mapping error in 2011 mistakenly placed a city council candidate’s home in the wrong ward, possibly because the name of her street changes after it crosses Johnston Avenue.

This is a redistricter’s worst nightmare. And a lesson to always check, check and check before enacting a new plan.

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Local Officials Warn Moving New York’s Presidential Primary Will  Cause State To Lose Delegates

The NY Daily News reports that “some irate local officials are warning New York will lose dozens of delegates to the 2016 Democratic convention following a successful push by former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to move the party’s primary from Passover week.”

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NY City Board of Elections Commissioners Approve Big Raises, Jacking  Up Managers Pay At Cost Of Nearly $202G A Year

In the Daily News, Celeste Katz reports that New York City Board of Elections commissioners “went behind closed doors this week to approve raises that jack up the pay of a slew of top managers at a cost of nearly $202,000 a year — and that’s just to start.”

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is not happy about it, especially coming after a new city budget was wrapped up.

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Bernie Sanders May Not Have To Fight To Get On NY Democratic Primary Ballot After All

The Gothamist provides an update on Bernie Sanders running in the New York presidential primary next year, citing Richard Winger’s analysis and NY State Board of Elections Commissioner Kellner apparently agreeing that Sanders could run.

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New Congressional Voting Rights Legislation Would Cover New York Again

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery reports “Congressional Democrats are expected to unveil new legislation this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday, that if passed would restore the requirement for federal approval for voting procedure changes in some states, a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court two years ago.

The legislation, titled “The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015,” would force any state that has had 15 or more voting rights violations in the last 25 years to be subject to federal preclearance for any change in voting procedure or law.
That criterion would initially subject 13 states to preclearance: New York, California, Arkansas, Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by the Washington Post. Those states would be able to free themselves of the preclearence provision by going 10 consecutive years without a voting rights violation.”
No New York delegation members are listed as prospective sponsors.

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