Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, April 25, 2011


As the Poughkeepsie Journal noted in a recent editorial:
District lines for state and congressional seats have to be redrawn every 10 years based on new census data; the state has an obligation to the public to do this right.

Historically, though, the process has been torturous and fraught with the worst in back-room politics. As a result, the public usually ends up with odd-shaped, bizarre political boundaries drawn, in part, to protect incumbents — and to give both Democrats and Republicans "safe" districts that are counter to fair and competitive elections.
The editorial writers at the Staten Island Advance enlarged on that theme here:
Under politics as usual in the state of New York, lawmakers have been choosing their own voters before voters get a chance to choose them. Members of the Legislature in Albany have been allowed to reshape election districts, including their own, every 10 years to protect themselves and their parties.

Such democracy in reverse recently was dubbed Charlie Sheen-style redistricting: It’s all about winning.

Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to put a stop to the behind-closed-doors wheeling and dealing has become stalled by, of all things, politics.

What a surprise.

The issue of redistricting is an important one for all citizens, which is why the Commission on Peace and Justice is getting involved with it this year. We will be posting more information in coming days. In the meantime, here is a primer on the issues from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. An excerpt:
Why does redistricting matter? Our representatives in local, state, and federal government set the rules by which we live. In ways large and small, they affect the taxes we pay, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the ways in which we make each other safer and more secure. Periodically, we hold elections to make sure that these representatives continue to listen to us. All of our legislators in state government, many of our legislators in local government, and most of our legislators in Congress are elected from districts, which divide a state and its voters into geographical territories. In most of these districts, all of the voters are ultimately represented by the candidate who wins the most votes in the district. The way that voters are grouped into districts therefore has an enormous influence on who our representatives are, and what policies they fight for. For example, a district composed mostly of farmers is likely to elect a representative who will fight for farmers’ interests, but a district composed mostly of city dwellers may elect a representative with different priorities. Similarly, districts drawn with large populations of the same race, or ethnicity, or language, or political party are more likely to elect representatives with the same characteristics.