The first in a four part series this week by Confer examining each proposal on the November 2nd ballot
By Bon Confer, 10/23/21
Heading to the polls can be a daunting task. If you are someone who tries to remain nonpartisan and unbiased, it can be difficult to make a decision about “who” to vote for. That voting stress can elevate when you are faced with “what” to vote for.
That will be the case this year as voters will be presented with not one, not two, but rather five proposals to vote on.
When it comes to ballot measures most citizens receive through the news or their favorite community organization very little in terms of deep analysis of those items. So, too often, they find themselves almost blindly pulling the lever (or, nowadays, filling in the bubble) while assuming the intent and background of the questions posed to them.
To help mitigate that fear and uncertainty, this newspaper and this writer will do as we have over my 16 years of column writing: We’ll prepare you to make your decision. Over the next 4 weeks, this column will analyze each of the proposals.
It’s fitting that the ballot, and this series, begins with the proposition that poses the biggest headache. Proposal #1 would amend Article III, sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 5a, and 5b of the Constitution of the State of New York as it pertains to redistricting.
The redistricting process, which realigns congressional and state legislative districts to mirror population shifts, happens every 10 years and is an outcome of the findings of the most recent US Census. The 2020 headcount has the state losing one of its congressional seats (as population growth in other states surpassed ours) while also showing decent growth downstate with only minor growth in the vaster upstate region (upstate increased by 105,000 people over 10 years while NYC added 629,000 and Long Island grew by 89,000).
To address the process associated with redistricting, now and in the future, the proposal will appear on ballots as follows (the numbers added for purposes of this column):
This proposed constitutional amendment would (1) freeze the number of state senators at 63, (2) amend the process for the counting of the state’s population, (3) delete certain provisions that violate the United States Constitution, (4) repeal and amend certain requirements for the appointment of the co-executive directors of the redistricting commission and (5) amend the manner of drawing district lines for congressional and state legislative offices. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
Let’s break down each of those stanzas.
One: Originally, the 1894 state Constitution, the one we use to this day, provided for 50 senators. Myriad amendments and laws –and a variety of legal battles – in response to population changes have seen that number change often, reaching 63 in 2012. To keep things simple, this proposal is asking to keep it at that number…at least until redistricting comes around in another decade.
Two: The 2020 Census came with much drama, something atypical to the counting process, as President Trump had ordered the Census Bureau to not count people who are living in the United States illegally. This amendment would have the state undertake its own census and count illegal immigrants if the federal Census fails to do so, and then use those counts for the apportionment of the state’s senate and assembly districts. This measure would also ensure that incarcerated individuals are counted in their last place of residence rather than where they are jailed.
Three: Long ago, New York’s Senate seats were based in part on geography and not just population. Since the US Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” decision in Baker v. Carr in 1962, the state has used population as the sole decider…but the language of the state Constitution, specifically reflecting that towns and city blocks couldn’t be divided, was never changed. This scratches the old language completely, putting the focus squarely on population.
Four: A 2014 amendment created the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), who would be empowered to develop the new district maps that would be submitted for legislature approval. It’s a 10-member committee that features appointees by the legislative houses’ majority and minority leaders. The current rules ensure that the two co-directors of the commission represent two parties which, as we know, would be Democratic and Republican, regardless of third parties. The proposed change would eliminate the two-party requirement for the directors, allowing one party to manage the process.
Five: That same 2014 amendment required that all proposed redistricting maps get approval from 7 members of the commission, including appointees from each majority and minority legislative leader, and must be passed by a legislative supermajority of two-thirds of each chamber. This proposition would keep the 7-person approval but drop the requirement that the new maps be supported by appointees of each legislative leader. It would also drop the two-thirds majority approval down to 60% in both houses, a difference of difference of 5 votes in the Senate and 10 votes in the Assembly, more likely ensuring the passage of the IRC’s proposal.
There’s a lot to consider here.
Are you still confused and overwhelmed?
I am, too, and I wrote this column.
This proposal is one of the worst to come down the pike in recent years (not necessarily in intent, but in presentation). It’s too complex and there are too many parts, some going in entirely different directions. It should have been broken down into independent and manageable proposals. Just consider this likely mess: If a voter finds fault in one or two sections yet really likes the others, what is she to do? Vote “no” on the amendment or “yes”?
What would you do?