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Redistricting: New York State and Beyond

On March 19th, a panel of federal judges imposed a court-drawn redistricting plan for New York State’s Congressional districts. The judges stepped into the redistricting process at the behest of a group of community leaders who were frustrated that the State Assembly and Senate were unable to agree on a plan. The panel’s plan reduces the number of districts from 29 to 27, in response to the 2010 census, eliminating a district in the Mid-Hudson Valley and one the covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

In a much more controversial move, Governor Cuomo signed a plan redrawing the state’s Assembly and Senate district lines that was developed by the legislature’s majorities, angering many who see it as a violation of his campaign promise to veto any “hyper-partisan” redistricting plan. Cuomo, who signed the plan on the condition that the majorities promise to reform the redistricting process through an amendment to the State constitution, defended the deal by claiming that it was worth it to secure long-term reform.

Redistricting, the process by which congressional and state legislature district boundaries are redrawn to accommodate population shifts, takes place every ten years in response to the decennial population census. As elections to the House of Representatives and state legislatures are based on these districts, redistricting is one of the most important and politically contentions processes in the country. In New York State, it is the legislature’s job to draw district lines, making the process even more problematic. This often leads to gerrymandering, the manipulation of district boundaries to gain advantage for a particular party or politician. If an incumbent feels threatened by a potential opponent in an upcoming election, for example, the opponent’s home can be removed from the incumbent’s district so that he is unable to run for the incumbent’s seat. Alternatively, an incumbent’s house can be carved out of her district and included in a different district, often one that is unlikely to elect her or that is already represented by her party. Gerrymandering can also be used to dilute the impact of a block of voters and is often used to disenfranchise minority voters. An area with a strong minority presence can be broken up in to smaller pieces which are then included in districts that are dominated by the majority, ensuring that only those of a certain race or religion are elected.

While gerrymandering has long been a part of the redistricting process in New York, there is evidence that district lines have become more and more political. In 2008, more than half of the state’s incumbent legislators were reelected with more than 80% of their district’s vote, while in 57 districts incumbents ran unopposed . In fact, a recent report gave New York’s redistricting process a failing grade.

Despite the deal that Como made with the legislature, many are skeptical that reform is coming to the State’s redistricting process anytime soon.

The Libraries have many resources on the issues surrounding the redistricting process, including:

Congress in Black and White: Race and Representation in Washington and at Home
. Christian R. Grose. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. University Library / JK 1021 G76 2011.

Lines in the Sand: Congressional Redistricting in Texas and the Downfall of Tom DeLay. Steve Bickerstaff. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2007. University Library / JK 1343 T4 B53 2007.

Party Lines: Competition, Partisanship, and Congressional Redistricting. Thomas E. Mann and Bruce E. Cain, eds. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, c2005. University Library / JK 1341 P37 2005.

Race, Ethnicity, and the Politics of City Redistricting: Minority-Opportunity Districts and the Election of Hispanics and Blacks to City Councils. Joshua G. Behr. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, c2004. University Library / JS 371 B44 2004.

The Realities of Redistricting: Following the Rules and Limiting Gerrymandering in State Legislative Redistricting
. Jonathan Winburn. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, c2008. University Library / JK 1341 W56 2008.

Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America. Charles S. Bullock III. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, c2010. University Library / KF 4905 B85 2010.

Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America
. Thomas L. Brunell. New York: Routledge, 2008. University Library / JK 1976 B74 2008.

More resources can be found by searching Minerva, our online catalog. You may also find these websites useful:

For research assistance on the topic of redistricting, contact Dick Irving,our Public Administration/Political Science/Law bibliograhper. Email Dick at ririving@albany.edu or call him at 442-3698.

Blog post created by Cary Gould