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Frequently Asked Questions about Redistricting (FAQs)

What is redistricting?

Redistricting is the process through which new lines are drawn for legislative districts across the country. In New York State, new districts will be drawn soon for the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly in time for the 2012 elections. Redistricting occurs every 10 years following the completion of the U.S. Census, which determines the population of states, cities and towns, down to individual blocks. The U.S. Census Bureau will provide New York with the data necessary to begin drawing district lines by April 1, 2011. Changing the redistricting process must happen this legislative session (before the end of June) for the change to affect the district lines about to be drawn.

What is reapportionment?

Reapportionment is the allocation of districts (also called “seats”) rather than the drawing of lines. At the federal level, there are a total of 435 congressional seats which must be divided among the states based on population changes counted in the U.S. Census. As a result of the 2010 Census, New York State will lose two congressional seats, giving it a total of 27 seats for the 2012 elections. New York has lost seats because other states had populations that grew more than New York from 2000 to 2010. At the state level, New York has a fixed number of assembly seats (150), but under the State Constitution the number of senate seats can be adjusted (currently 62).

What is LATFOR?

LATFOR is the acronym for the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment. It is the body in New York State that is responsible for developing district maps that are ultimately voted into law by the State Legislature. LATFOR is appointed by the legislative leaders and currently is made up of 4 legislators and 2 non-legislators, for a total of 6 members. The majority party in each house of the legislature gets two appointments while the minority party gets one appointment, meaning that it is controlled by whoever is in power in each house. This year, the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats have the majority of appointments.

What is partisan gerrymandering?

Partisan gerrymandering occurs when the drawing of district lines is deliberately used by the political actors (typically the legislative Gerrymanderleaders) in control to advantage or disadvantage a particular party, legislator, or candidate. It can be used by those in control of the process to curry favor among legislators, by either protecting them or disadvantaging them. In New York, partisan gerrymandering has historically led to the overrepresentation of upstate in the Senate, which is primarily Republican, and overrepresentation of downstate in the Assembly, which is primarily Democratic.

The name “gerrymandering” comes from an 1812 district map in Massachusetts that was drawn under Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry (the “gerry” of gerrymander) as part of an attempt to secure his party’s control in the state senate. A cartoonist drew the picture at right, in which the district’s curves throughout the state resembled a salamander (the “mander” of the word). The term has been used ever since.

Picture at right: "The Gerry-Mander" by Gilbert Stuart. Originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.

What are redistricting criteria or guidelines?

Redistricting criteria or guidelines are the rules that line-drawers follow in drawing district maps. Under current law, there are few rules that must be followed in drawing districts. For example, in accordance with the principle of “one person, one vote” enshrined in federal law, districts are required to have a maximum population difference of no more than 10% between the largest and the smallest district. Other criteria include that districts should be contiguous and compact. However, when electoral district boundaries are deliberately drawn for partisan advantage, districts may not reflect the demographics of actual communities, natural or established borders and may split apart or marginalize specific voting groups, in some cases across districts with far-flung geographic boundaries that are not “contiguous and compact.”

ReShapeNY supports the use of even-handed and sensible redistricting guidelines and criteria that provide for fair and effective representation of all New Yorkers, including racial and language minority groups, and which ensure that district lines that do not favor or oppose any incumbent or political party. For more information, see our legislation page.

What is an independent redistricting commission?

ReShapeNY supports the creation of a new redistricting commission that is independent, representative, politically balanced, and fairly chosen that would draw congressional and legislative district lines. Independence can be achieved by:

  • Prohibiting legislators, lobbyists and others with conflicts of interest from serving on the redistricting commission
  • Ending the practice of having legislators directly appoint members of the commission (ReShapeNY supports in its place the use of a nominating committee to select members who are qualified to serve as commissioners.)
  • Creating partisan balance on the commission
  • Ensuring that appointees reflect the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the state.

For more information, see our legislation page.

What do you mean by adequate disclosure and transparency?

Under the current system of redistricting, public hearings are not required to be held, nor are data, maps, or mapmaking software (the computer programs that line-drawers use to create districts) required to be made readily available to the public. The process of redistricting has largely occurred behind closed doors, with input from the public being ignored.

ReShapeNY supports opening up the redistricting process by requiring public hearings to be held through the state and by requiring that all data, mapmaking software and other relevant information be provided to the public so that it can adequately comment on and give feedback to the commission about the proposed district lines.

What are minority voting rights and the Voting Rights Act?

Under federal law, minority voters are protected under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has two sections that relate to redistricting. New York State law does not currently afford any further protection for minority voters.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act protects minority voters from practices and procedures that deprive them of an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice because of their race, color, or membership in a particular language minority group. A violation of Section 2 occurs if it is proven that minority vote dilution has occurred under certain circumstances.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, New York State must submit any voting changes such as new district maps to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance if they affect the counties of New York, Bronx, or Kings. These counties are covered because of their history with discrimination against minority voters. Section 5 requires the body charged with drawing lines to prove that any changes are not intentionally discriminatory and will not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.

For more information, see the NAACP LDF’s report, Impact of Redistricting on YOUR Community 2010: A Guide to Redistricting.

ReShapeNY supports legislation that will ensure that fair and effective representation of all New Yorkers, including racial and language minority groups.

Why does the legislature have the authority to approve district lines?

Under the State Constitution, the New York State Legislature has the authority to approve new district lines. In reforming the redistricting process, however, an independent redistricting commission can be given the responsibility of developing redistricting plans. Under the current system, the legislature gives the responsibility for drawing lines to LATFOR, and the legislature approves its plans through passing legislation. With an independent commission, the legislature would also be responsible for approving the commission’s plans, and would have the ability to comment on the plans or make amendments.

If you have any other questions about redistricting, please feel free to contact us at info @ reshapeny.org

Last Updated (Friday, 03 February 2012 16:18)