Peace & Justice

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Differing philosophies on how to redistrict

Felicia Krieg of The Legislative Gazette has a story in this week’s newspaper about redistricting and an issue that should concern all of us, i.e., the difference in populations between legislative districts. According to the paper:
The populations of current Senate and Assembly districts are too inconsistent, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NYPIRG, and both are hoping to reform this in a bill currently before the Legislature. But another good government group, Common Cause, is warning that more flexibility in a district's population may be needed in order to keep communities of interest intact and "reasonably compact."

In the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, the governor recommends a plus or minus 1 percent standard deviation in a given district. And an Oct. 7 report on redistricting released by the New York Public Interest Research Group supports the governor's recommendation. It calls the plus or minus 1 percent proposed maximum standard deviation "not only desirable, but feasible and doable."

Legislative district lines are redrawn every ten years, based on U.S. Census data. The last of the 12 public hearings held by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), charged with drawing new legislative districts based on population, was held on Oct. 5. Cuomo has said repeatedly that he would veto any new district lines drawn by legislators.

Standard deviation in a Senate or Assembly district's population shows how many percentage points the population is away from the population average of all the districts. Currently, Senate and Assembly districts in New York can vary as much as plus or minus 5 percent from the average district size.

While Common Cause/NY supports Cuomo's bill and NYPIRG's desire to carefully examine the past problems there have been with redistricting and some solutions to remedy them, Common Cause is recommending a plus or minus 3 percent maximum deviation so there is more leeway to keep communities of interest and municipalities intact and ensure relatively compact districts.

"While numerical equivalency is a key component of real redistricting reform, we are concerned that it comply with, not cost, other important good government criteria: maintaining communities of interest, keeping cities, towns, counties, and villages intact whenever possible, and drawing districts that are reasonably compact," said Susan Lerner, executive director for Common Cause/NY.

Lerner offered Albany County as an example to illustrate a problem with drawing districts using a plus or minus 1 percent standard deviation. The population of Albany County is 304,204, with a standard deviation of minus 2.57 percent. It makes more sense, Lerner said, to keep the county intact as one Senate district and have a greater standard deviation, rather than breaking it up to adhere to the plus or minus 1 percent rule.

The differences between several good government groups are presented in the rest of the article, which is here.