Common Cause Responds to NYPIRG Report on Numerical Equivalency in Redistricting

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

October 7, 2011


Common Cause Responds to NYPIRG Report on Numerical Equivalency in Redistricting

Numerical equivalency can not be sole criteria, does not guarantee non-politicized maps. +/-1% precludes other important good government criteria, Common Cause recommends +/- 3% maximum deviation

Common Cause NY is pleased that the redistricting discussion is being focused on the criteria and their real life application. This is the sort of detailed and thoughtful discussion that needs to take place as we all work together to reform the redistricting process. We are committed to a full conversation which includes the scope of criteria laid out in a recent op-ed.

While numerical equivalency is a key component of real redistricting reform, we are concerned that it comply with, not cost, other important good government criteria: maintaining communities of interest, keeping cities, towns, counties, and villages intact whenever possible, and drawing districts that are reasonably compact. As we have seen with Congressional maps which require near exact numerical equivalency, this criteria does not preclude a politicized result. We’ve learned from our experience in drawing reform maps that +/- 3% is the preferable maximum deviation with respect to these criteria. However, it is possible to keep the overall mean deviation for all districts at less than 1.5%.

Example 1: Albany County has a population of 304,204, which constitutes a -2.67% deviation. In cases like this, it makes much more sense to leave the County as a whole Senate District rather than break it up just to mechanically follow the +/- 1% rule.

Example 2: The counties of Madison, Cortland, Chenango, Otsego, Schoharie, and Delaware can combine to make a Senate District with a population of 315,961 (with the subtraction of 282 prisoners included). This is exactly the kind of Senate district that good government groups advocate for: it’s compact, keeps all counties and towns intact, and is a distinct region of the state. Yet it would be a +1.1% deviation. If a strict +/- 1% rule were followed, this district would be impossible.

Example 3: In the Assembly, the +/-1% deviation can also undermine attempts to keep communities of interest together and keep the district reasonably compact. In areas where many towns have populations greater than 30,000 but less than the size of a full assembly district, such as the Hudson Valley, the Capitol Region, Monroe County, and Erie County, we’ve found that it is impossible to draw compact Assembly districts that keep communities of interest together without having more flexibility with the population deviation. For example, the current AD143 encompasses the towns of Cheektowaga and Lancaster in the suburbs of Buffalo. It’s compact and a demographically similar community of interest, but there is a +1.1% deviation. However, it meets all other criteria for a well drawn district.


Common Cause is a leader in redistricting reform around the nation. Common Cause California wrote and helped to pass the Voters First Initiative in California in 2008 which set up the first Citizens’ Redistricting Commission in the U.S. which has drawn new political boundaries transparently and with public input. Common Cause Minnesota helped pass a referendum in Minneapolis that removes political parties from the redistricting process by having a judge appoint members of the redistricting commission. Common Cause strongly supported and helped pass the Fair Districts Florida initiatives in 2010 that set new rules for redrawing legislative and congressional lines which prohibit drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.