Former NY State Senator Proposes Redistricting Reform Panel

Former New York State Senator Seymour P. Lachman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on Sunday recounting his personal experience with redistricting politics and proposing a new model for redistricting reform. He described being offered a variety of perks and incentive in order to consent to his districting being “cracked” during the New York State legislative redistricting in 2004. It taught him “that the state’s redistricting system creates almost lifetime tenure for elected officials and an almost imperial level of control for the majority leadership. Separating it from political influence must therefore be high on any reform agenda.”

Lachman proposes creating a “panel of distinguished citizens, perhaps including a few legislators” who would create three redistricting plans and submit them to the legislature. The legislature would then have to approve one of these plans, and could not create its own. It is certainly an interesting idea, and presents a promising option for states where creation of an independent commission is not a realistic possibility.

First, some reasonable mechanisms would have to be put in place. The toughest challenge is the selection of the three “distinguished citizens.” Perhaps an application review process like the one currently in place in California could be constructed.  And, as with all redistricting systems, a time limit and fall back approach (either state or federal court being the most likely) are vital.
Potential advantages of the proposed approach:
  • By taking away direct control of redistricting from the legislature, new maps are almost certain to be an improvement on current districts
  • It eliminates the legislature’s ability to draw its own lines, while leaving a limited role in the process for the legislators.
  • The proposal could and should include strict rules for respecting communities of interest, compactness, contiguity, and the like.
  • More competitive elections – the likely consequence of reform-driven redistricting – should make legislators more responsive to their constituents and, due to shorter terms and increased scrutiny, less likely to engage in the corruption currently plaguing the New York state legislature.
  • Adoption of the plan could create momentum for either increased independence of a redistricting commission and/or expansion of the plan to U.S. Congressional districts

Potential disadvantages of the proposal:

  • The plan is open to influence and pressure from state legislators, who might over influence panel selection, essentially negating its ability to create fair districts
  • There is no guarantee that the panel would be able to agree on three possible plans, or that any plan could gain a majority in both Houses
  • There are no limits stated yet on who can be a member of the panel, meaning that people with significant connections and wealth could gain more access
  • The New York State legislature is unlikely to approve any measure that decreases its control, and without an initiative process in New York it is unlikely to ever become law

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