Analysis: The Quest for Honest Election Districts

Reformers believe the only path to permanent, lasting change, will be to pass an amendment to the State Constitution.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    For too long, redistricting has been an exercise in a kind of electoral corruption, says Gabe Pressman.

    A group of reformers gathered in New York this week to discuss the progress of efforts to change the electoral lines across the country.

    Dick Dadey of New York’s Citizens Union told me that Governor Cuomo, by threatening to veto the lines proposed by Albany’s legislative leaders can be an influence for good.

    Will the governor veto the proposed lines? Whose side is the governor on, the political bosses or the good government groups? It’s a murky situation.

    If the governor threatens a veto, he could move the process along. But the key word here is “threatens.” Dadey and other reformers believe a veto will send the matter to a federal judge to decide and they don’t think that’s a good plan.

    These reformers believe the only path to permanent, lasting change, will be to pass an amendment to the state constitution. That could pave the way for the legislature and the people to enact a more permanent, lasting kind of redistricting.

    Every 10 years, the federal census bureau adds up -- and publishes -- the number of people in each election district around the country. It could -- and should be -- an important moment in the life or our democracy.

    Instead, it has been distorted by unscrupulous politicians over the years to establish a permanent class of office holders -- elected year after year in districts carved out to ensure they stay in power.

    Redistricting -- altering the boundaries of the district according to population changes -- is supposed to happen honestly every decade. But for too long it has been an exercise in a kind of electoral corruption -- making the congressional or legislative seat boundaries conform to the selfish interests of the people who hold the seats now.

    The Republican and Democratic bosses have tried to protect the existing office holders. You get the impression that their mission is to perpetuate the unfair practices of past years. Districts are drawn to maximize the votes of the people who support the incumbents. The designs of the districts are so tricky that, in some cases, they resemble prehistoric monsters; in other cases the newly carved districts have looked like lobsters, crabs or salamanders.

    From grotesque, zoological monstrosities to fair and impartial representation seems like a huge step. Exactly how it can be accomplished is not clear. But as long as the reformers keep hammering away at this, the officials of government will hear their voices.

    How long it will take to heed those voices is another matter. Dadey says, to accomplish comprehensive reform could take another 10 years.