Every 10 years the federal government orders a new census to be taken, and based on the shifts in population, new lines are drawn for legislative districts all across the country for federal, state and local offices. It’s one of the most basic and most important aspects of politics, and perhaps the most misunderstood and certainly the most unnoticed. Few people ever realize the process has taken place.
It’s like the wheel of fortune. Politicians spin the wheel and what district you end up in may be a matter of random chance. But elected officials are also known to push for district lines that favor their reelection, regardless of how ridiculous their district may look. You could give a standard Rorschach test using many of the districts drawn in New York.
This has led many people to call for a more non-partisan redistricting process, where legislative lines are drawn by people without a political agenda, and instead of looking at the electorates political leanings, they judge the voting base on criteria like common community, ethnicity and other demographic measures to bunch people into homogenous districts with shared values.
Ed Koch has made this a marquee issue for 2011, and has many legislators lined up with him calling for reform. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a new, non-partisan system, and has pledged to veto any lines drawn this year that are not done in a non-partisan manor.
Unfortunately, the only proposal so far is to have a group appointed by the top elected officials in the state, the exact same people we are supposedly trying to take this power away from. In other words, it would be a sham system, but one where the governor would now have players at the table, possibly tilting the balance away from evenly split to which ever party holds the statehouse at that time.
Proponents are also saying that now is the time, or we will have to wait ten years before this opportunity comes around again. However, patience is a virtue in matters like this, where we need to make sure we get it right the first go-round. Changing the system for change sake isn’t just careless, but in this case it could be reckless and could destroy the checks and balances that come from the two-party system we have now. To those who say the system can’t be any worse than what we currently have, I say think again.
Robert Hornak is a Queens-based political consultant, blogger, and an active member of the Queens Republican Party.