To the Editor:
Re “The Furtive Artists of Power Politics: Mapmakers” (news article, Jan. 30):
Never before have so many states faced court challenges to redistricting plans based on the 2010 census as we have before the courts today this late in the decade. While states will always retain experts to redraw legislative maps, fair, objective and prioritized rules can help limit partisan and racial gerrymandering.
The New York City Charter provides a strong model for redrawing city council districts by keeping like-minded communities together; avoiding bizarrely shaped districts; and making sure that travel within the district is convenient without having to cross into another district.
No legal court challenges were brought to plans enacted by the city after the 2003 and 2013 City Council redistricting cycles partly as a result of a methodological process that balanced the law with community concerns. It’s not that difficult a task for others to follow to avoid litigation.
JEFFREY M. WICE, NEW YORK
The writer is a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. He served as redistricting counsel to two New York City Council redistricting commissions and to both chambers in the New York Legislature.
From a Governor’s press release:
Every New York County Will Offer Early Voting in 12 Days Leading Up to Election Day
Part of Governor’s Democracy Agenda to Strengthen the Electoral Process and Ensure All New Yorkers Have the Opportunity to Be Heard at the Ballot Box
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a 30-day budget amendment will be advanced to fund voting reforms, including early voting across the state. This action will provide approximately $7 million in the FY 2019 Executive Budget for New York counties to offer early voting in the 12 days leading up to Election Day.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and no one should have to choose between exercising their sacred right to vote and going to work, school or personal commitments,” Governor Cuomo said. “By offering early voting across the state, we are further breaking down barriers to democracy and helping to ensure that all New Yorkers’ voices are heard.”
To make it easier for New Yorkers to vote, Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation to institute early voting in the State. The legislation will require every county to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters will have at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots. Counties must have one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents and the bipartisan County Boards of Elections will determine the specific location of early voting polling places, subject to standards of accessibility and convenience.
This action is part of Governor Cuomo’s Democracy Agenda – a bold set of reforms to ensure elections remain free and transparent and to modernize New York’s antiquated voting system.
Under current law, New York is one of only 13 states where early voting is not available and an excuse is required to request an absentee ballot. New Yorkers can vote via absentee ballot only if the voter meets certain qualifications such as being absent from his or her county on Election Day or being unable to get to the polls due to a disability.
Research shows that work, school, and personal commitments can prevent voters from participating in United States elections. Early voting would ameliorate these inhibitors and lead to shorter lines on Election Day, early detection and correction of registration errors and greater access to voting. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia already allow voters to cast ballots in person before Election Day.
Citizens Union is pleased the needed special election to fill 11 seats in the State Legislature has been scheduled by Governor Cuomo. We maintain that critical reforms need to be put into place, especially since special elections have the lowest voter turnout rates of any elections in New York. New Yorkers are both unable to participate in the process of nominating special election candidates and are not turning out to essentially ratify the choices of party leaders.
Special elections for state legislators are called at the discretion of the Governor. This year he chose to delay holding special elections for the 11 empty seats until after the budget season, leaving several districts without representation during a critical time in the legislative session.
Last year Citizens Union released an update to its report Circumventing Democracy, which found that at least 29 percent (61 members) of all 213 legislators seated in 2017 were first elected in a special election, up 6 percentage points from 2015. In the New York State Assembly, one-third of the entire body, or 49 of 150 legislators, were first elected in a special election. In the New York State Senate, 19 percent, or 12 of 63, of its members were first elected in a special election. Party leaders select the candidate of their choosing for special elections behind closed doors, circumventing primaries that are open to everyday registered party members, and denying them the ability to elect their party’s nominee.
Citizens Union urges the New York State Legislature and Governor to prioritize one of the following reforms to open up the process to voters of selecting the candidates that will fill vacancies in the State Legislature:
- Holding a party primary election at least thirty days in advance of the special election, or
- Holding one non-partisan special election along the lines of the current process for filling vacancies in the New York City Council in which the ballot is open to all who can petition on to it.
Resource: Circumventing Democracy: The Flawed System for Filling Vacancies for Elected Office in New York
From Speaker Heastie:
“Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly has passed legislation to require that the fall 2018 state primary be held on Thursday, September 13, 2018 to ensure that all New Yorkers who choose to are able to participate in the electoral process (A.8917-A, Carroll).
Under the current political calendar, the fall 2018 state primary would fall on Tuesday, September 11, 2018. In addition to being the 17th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks and an important day of observance for many New Yorkers, it is also the second day of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, due to religious observance of Rosh Hashanah, this date would be problematic for persons of the Jewish faith who wish to participate in the election.
“The Assembly Majority is committed to making sure that every New Yorker is able to exercise their right to vote,” said Heastie. “By changing the date of this year’s state primary, we can be certain we have taken the necessary steps to encourage voter participation across the state.”
“Today’s legislation helps us to ensure that our electoral system is fair to all New Yorkers,” said Assemblymember Charles Lavine, chair of the Election Law Committee. “Voter participation is critical to the continued success of our democracy, which is why the Assembly Majority consistently pushes for policies that facilitate the voting process.”
“This legislation helps to safeguard the inclusivity of our state’s electoral process by being mindful of the needs of every New Yorker,” said Assemblymember Carroll, sponsor of the bill. “September 11th is a significant day of remembrance and memorial for many New Yorkers and also coincides with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.”
In State of Politics, Nick Reisman posts: “As expected, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has scheduled April 24 as the date to hold a special election to fill 11 vacancies in the state Senate and Assembly.
The election will fill nine empty seats in the Assembly and two in the Senate, created largely due to lawmakers winning off-cycle local level races last year.”
From the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government:
Albany, NY — The Rockefeller Institute is pleased to announce that Jeffrey M. Wice, nationally renowned expert on elections and redistricting, is joining the Institute as a research fellow. Wice brings more than 35 years of experience working in redistricting, voting rights, and census law.
“I’m proud to welcome Jeff Wice to the Rockefeller Institute team,” said Rockefeller Institute President Jim Malatras. “With public trust in elections eroding and the 2020 census on the horizon, his work on election and census law is vital and timely. I look forward to working together to bring much-needed objective research and analysis to bear on these issues.”
Wice has consulted on redistricting and voting rights matters for members of Congress, state legislative leaders, and state and local government officials around the country. He has been included in Roll Call‘s list of top 50 Washington policy insiders.
Wice currently serves as staff co-chair of the Redistricting and Elections Standing Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). He serves as “of counsel” to Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C., is a fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School, and has taught election law at Hofstra Law School and the Touro Law Center.
About the Rockefeller Institute of Government
The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. The Institute conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. Learn more at www.rockinst.org