Common Cause Statement on Reports of a Constitutional Amendment

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

March 7, 2012


Common Cause Statement on Reports of a Constitutional Amendment

In response to press reports about a deal on redistricting involving a constitutional amendment, Common Cause Executive Director, Susan Lerner, issued the following statement:

“As Common Cause/NY has repeatedly stated, reform in this redistricting cycle now lies with the Governor’s veto pen. It’s very simple: the Special Master has provided a legal and fair alternative to the Legislature’s political maneuvering, which would give New Yorkers the democracy they deserve now. A constitutional amendment is not interchangeable with reform in this cycle, and must meet certain standards in order to constitute real reform. Common Cause/NY won’t speculate on press reports about the proposed amendment. However, if and when a bill is introduced we will evaluate it against strict criteria to determine whether it is worthy of support.”

Specific criteria can be found in two recent op-eds by Professor Gerald Benjamin in the Albany Times Union, and Susan Lerner in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Excerpted from the Albany Times Union:

“For next time and thereafter, we must pass a state constitutional amendment placing redistricting beyond the reach of change by the ordinary state legislative process. We need to entirely replace what are an outdated, arcane, substantially invalid constitutional provisions.

A constitutional amendment must provide for an independent commission with an odd number of members (5 to 13) appointed by a diversity of authorities exclusively from a pool of interested citizens. Lobbyists, elected officials and those directly or indirectly dependent upon them for employment could not serve. Members would reflect the political and demographic diversity of the state.

They would have a clear timetable and employ clear criteria, including in order of priority: compliance with federal requirements, observance of the integrity of the state’s regions – defined by its natural and built environment – and recognition within regions of social and demographic communities of interest.

Use of data reflecting partisanship or incumbent residency in designing districts would be prohibited. Finally, the Commission’s decisions would not be subject to revision by the Legislature.”

Excerpted from the Democrat & Chronicle:

“An amendment must address two central questions: Who draws the maps, and how are they drawn? The “who” is easy. The amendment should establish an independent commission to draw impartial, non-politicized district lines. In Arizona and California the voters set up, via public referendum, actual citizens’ commissions, made up of non-officials chosen from a pool of applicants to reflect the diversity of the state.

Next, the independent commission needs a set of criteria to consider when drawing electoral maps. The “how,” as it were. Start with public hearings to consider how the lines should be drawn. Here are some ideas to start: the amendment should include language to expressly prohibit political gerrymandering. Instead, it should make communities of interest a mandatory priority. We can start by eliminating the mechanical requirement not to split counties and towns. Let’s allow for a more flexible standard that recognizes that cities, villages and school districts may also be important indicators of community in different parts of the state.

Although the composition of districts may vary, the size should not. In order to assure the principle of one person, one vote, we need to set a reasonable limit to achieve closer parity among districts.

Finally, let’s establish a set number of senators to further ensure that representation is not subject to political gamesmanship.”