Redistricting Reform Bill Proposed By Senator Valesky

David J. Valesky

April 19, 2006

Over recent months I have been detailing ideas and legislative proposals I believe will help make our state government more open, responsible and responsive. When it comes to responsiveness, few things are more important than the need for significant redistricting reform.

Recently, I introduced a bill in the Senate that would give the people of New York fair and logical electoral districts by creating an independent reapportionment commission to propose the boundaries for Congress, State Senate and Assembly districts following each census.

The state’s current apportionment process is intentionally rigged to give the majority members an advantage. What that system means for the people of New York is that many Congressional, State Senate and Assembly districts make absolutely no logical sense.

Take the 49th Senate District as just one example. Of all the talks I have with constituents visiting my office, the conversation piece that always causes the most stir is the map of the 49th Senate District that hangs on the wall. While I am honored to represent every corner of this district, there are many more corners than logic dictates.

For those who have never seen the map, the 49th Senate District stretches from Fair Haven on shores of Lake Ontario, to Bridgewater, the Southernmost village in Oneida County. In between, the 49th weaves through parts of four counties as it dissects three upstate cities and jumps over two sizable lakes: Oneida Lake and Skaneateles Lake. The people I represent are often shocked to hear that to get from one end of the 49th to the other without leaving the district you have to take a boat – not once, but twice.

The truth is that few districts in the state make much logical sense. The 24th Congressional district, which is being vacated by Sherwood Boehlert, includes parts of 11 counties. The 56th Senate District west of here includes two large geographic areas connected by a sliver that runs through western Rochester. And in the Assembly, the 23rd district in Queens traverses the Cross Bay Bridge over Jamaica Bay to connect parts of Rockaway.

While I am honored to represent all 49ers, whether they are from the Southwestern section of Rome, the Eastern half of Syracuse, the Northeastern corner of Auburn, or points in between, I am obliged to say on their behalf that New York’s current redistricting simply does not make sense.

The bill I have proposed, Senate Bill 7124, would create an 11 member commission – with 2 members appointed by each majority and minority leader, and 3 appointed subsequently by the 8 confirmed members. After each census the commission would propose district boundaries that, after public hearings, would require a vote of the legislature without amendments.

I believe that independent reapportionment would eliminate the conflict of interest inherent in having legislative leaders draw their own districts. It would guarantee competitive elections, encourage voter participation, and make all legislators more accountable to the public. Most of all, independent redistricting would move us one step closer to a state government that is more open, responsible and responsive.