Declaring independence: Referendum language misleads on redistricting commission

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  • Susan Lerner

Declaring independence: Referendum language misleads on redistricting commission


Could members of the Cuomo administration be up to the same mischief they engaged in last year when seeking permission to expand legalized gambling?

A government watchdog group suspects so. Representatives of Common Cause/New York recently helped facilitate a lawsuit against the state Board of Elections challenging language to be included on a referendum concerning the redistricting process.

The Board of Elections earlier this month approved language for the Nov. 4 ballot initiative seeking to amend the state constitution. If voters approve the measure, congressional and state legislative districts would be redrawn beginning in 2022 by a 10-member commission.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Common Cause/New York Executive Director Susan Lerner, said the language describing this commission as “independent” is deceptive. Eight of the 10 commission members will be appointed by the four leaders of the state Legislature, and the other two will be selected by these eight appointed members.

In addition, the Legislature can eventually revise the commission’s plan if it’s not to members’ liking. According to the lawsuit, and common sense, this commission will be anything but “independent.”

Similar complaints of rhetorical shenanigans were lodged last year when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sought a change in the state constitution to expand gambling. Opponents charged that the language used on the ballot extolled the benefits of additional casinos rather than just presenting the facts of what the ballot measure sought.

And those critical of last year’s referendum were correct then just as they are now. State legislators will determine who sits on the redistricting commission — ensuring their interests, not those of New York residents, will be served.

Here is a draft of the referendum language proposed by Common Cause/New York along with other like-minded organizations: “The proposed amendment to Article 3 of the constitution would allow New York state’s legislative leaders to appoint a bipartisan commission to establish new state legislative and congressional district lines every 10 years pursuant to stated criteria with final approval by the Legislature. Shall the amendment be approved?”

This sounds straight forward and honest. Now, which of these qualities is causing the biggest hang-up for the crowd in Albany?