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Poll: Voters want independent redistricting

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A new poll out Thursday finds many New Yorkers want a fair method for redrawing district lines. As Karen DeWitt reports, some think nonpartisan redistricting could go a long way toward limiting dysfunction in government.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

A Quinnipiac poll out Thursday finds that 50% of those surveyed think the new legislative and congressional district lines, required every ten years when new census numbers come out, be completed by an independent commission to prevent gerrymandering. Only 13% says the legislature should be redrawing the lines. 26% say it would be acceptable if an independent body received input from the legislature.

Despite that, a legislative task force on redistricting continues to meet to oversee the drawing of their own district lines, even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly vowed to veto their work.  

Quinnipiac’s Mickey Carroll says there’s also likely to be continued pressure from former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who leads a reform campaign for independent, non partisan  redistricting.

“If they don’t do it they’ll get screamed at by a very, very articulate and skilled screamer,” said Carroll. 

Koch convinced many lawmakers, including nearly all of the Republicans, who control the state Senate, to sign a pledge to end gerrymandered districts. The former Mayor has already condemned the Senate GOP as enemies of reform, for not agreeing to a non partisan commission before the session ended earlier this summer.

Political consultant and SUNY professor Bruce Gyory says doing redistricting right this time could make a difference to average New Yorkers, and he cites as evidence the federal government’s gridlock over the debt ceiling, which has led to the current turmoil on Wall Street.

He says because of excessive gerrymandering not just in New York but in many other states, congressional districts are drawn to encompass increasingly partisan voters. So, while a congressperson may be answering to their individual constituents when they take a stand against raising the debt ceiling, they are not taking a position that represents the general public at large.

 “We had a clear public opinion consensus,” said Gyory, that included spending cuts and some revenue increases.  But he says that didn’t happen.

“We only have collectively somewhere between 50 and 70 truly competitive seats in the House of Representatives,” he said.

As a result, he says members of both parties listened  more to the hard right or hard left of their base, and left the middle point of view out of the discussion. That led to government dysfunction, and great uncertainty on Wall Street. 

Gyroy says this year, in New York State government, that pattern was reversed. Even though Senate lines are drawn in a deeply partisan manner, Republicans hold razor thin  one seat majority. He says on the issues of a property tax cap, gay marriage, and other items, Senators were more inclined to respond to what the majority of the public wanted, instead of catering to their party’s more rigid bases.
They ended up agreeing with Governor Cuomo on those issues, and approving bills that had long been blocked in Albany, in what Gyory says was a “bang up” session.

“They were looking at the same electorate,” said Gyory. “Rather than precooked partisan districts.”

He says the more competitive races, the more likely it is to see public opinion preferences reflected in governing.

Senate Republicans say they do favor a constitutional amendment to require independent redistricting. But that could not take effect until well after the current lines are due, and would not be law until after the 2020 census. 

Senate Democrats need just two seats to officially take over that chamber, and demographic trends show that there are more Democrats than Republicans overall in New York. They could be the biggest winners form independent redistricting. Senate Democrats used the news from the poll to call, once again for a special session of the legislature this fall to create an independent commission to redraw the district lines.

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