Peace & Justice

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do-it-yourself redistricting

Costas Panagopoulos, an associate professor of political science and director of the 2012 New York Redistricting Project at Fordham University, will be in Albany tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 1) to host a panel discussion and demonstration of software for redistricting from 2 to 4 p.m. in Hearing Room A of the Legislative Office Building in Albany. The easy-to-use software will be used in a student competition to design fair and equitable redistricting maps. The event is free and open to the public.

As he notes today in an o-ed piece in today’s Times Union:
Legislative redistricting has long been marred by backroom deal-making and a lack of public input. By restricting public access, politicians have been able to gerrymander districts to benefit themselves and their party.

Every 10 years, district lines are redrawn to reflect population and demographic changes. In theory, this guarantees that all citizens are fairly and equally represented through their elected officials. However, partisan gerrymandering often slices communities apart and creates districts that fail to ensure effective minority representation. Invariably, this dynamic contributes to partisan gridlock that paralyzes the political and policy making process.

As the state Legislature is in the midst of drawing its own lines, there is real concern about how the new maps will be produced. In past redistricting, both parties have joined to institutionalize partisan control of the Assembly and the Senate by creating fewer competitive races. Partisan control of the redistricting process has resulted in badly contorted districts that neglect communities and preclude competitive elections.

For all kinds of communities to be fairly represented in government, redistricting must be accountable to the communities being represented. The process must be transparent, accountable and open to public engagement.

Now, with the availability of user-friendly, free software, every citizen can have the tools to produce legislative maps. "The 2012 New York Redistricting Project", a collaborative effort between the Fordham Center of Electoral Politics and Democracy and the Public Mapping Project, seeks to promote these mapping tools, by training the public to use them effectively and become involved in redistricting.
We urge you to show up for the presentation on Tuesday, but, in the meantime, you can read more of his op-ed here.

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