Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
A recently released report gives New Jersey high marks when it comes to how the state redraws its legislative districts after each U.S. Census, while New York received a failing grade.
New Jersey uses independent, bi-partisan commissions to come up with district lines. For the state legislative lines, the commission is made up of ten members appointed by the political parties. But there is an 11th tie-breaking vote, and the state Supreme Court decides who casts that vote. Susan Lerner, from the good government group Common Cause in New York, says this year a Rutgers professor had the final say on the lines. “So while the process was still controlled politically, the ultimate result was not,” she explained.
Congressional district lines are drawn by a similar commission.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has put forward an amendment that would establish a bi-partisan commission in New York. But critics say the amendment would still give the final say to the state legislature's majorities.
Election law expert Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles says states like California, Arizona and Montana have much stricter rules that prohibit elected officials or any of their appointees from being on commissions.
“The big difference is the mountain west has a public initiative process where the public can put government reforms directly on the ballot and that’s not an option in many other states including in New York,” Levitt said.
The state legislature must approve reforms in New York, making change incremental. “Because these mark the difference between having a job and not having a job, legislatures are pretty reluctant to give up that power,” Levitt said.