Dutchess Democrats put forward independent redistricting law

By | August 25, 2019
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On August 12, 2019, Democratic members of the Dutchess County Legislature again put forward a local law to end the practice of county legislators drawing their own maps. Instead of creating their own gerrymandered districts, the legislature would delegate the power to create the new map to an independent bipartisan/nonpartisan commission.

The current Dutchess map was gerrymandered by Republicans after they repealed the last independent redistricting law.

This is the FOURTH time that Democrats have put forward an independent redistricting law in the Dutchess County Legislature and the third time this year alone. All prior attempts were repealed or blocked by Republicans.

Attempts to work together on a bipartisan basis failed when Republicans refused to add language that would prevent the use of polling information, election results and other political data when redrawing legislative districts and refused to clearly define the criteria to be used by the commission when drawing the map.

The seven member Independent Redistricting Commission would have two members selected by Democrats, two by Republicans and the remaining three members would have to be agreed upon by a majority of those four initial members. Once formed, the commission would take public input and create a redistricting plan based on specific criteria (population equity, compactness, contiguity and municipal/institutional boundaries) without consideration of political impacts, voting patterns or party registrations.

In an effort to prevent another repeal by a future legislature seeking to redraw the map for political advantage, the proposed law would trigger a public referendum next November to enact the law. Any future attempts to repeal would be seen as thwarting the will of the people. By refusing to consider a redistricting law until later in the year, Republicans ensured that the referendum could not happen until 2020.

“Chairman Gregg Pulver and the Republicans have blocked discussion of independent redistricting all year and now it cannot go into effect until January 1, 2021,” said Assistant Minority Leader Kristofer Munn (D-Red Hook). “This could have been on the ballot in front of voters this year. Instead, it was delayed for partisan political purposes.”

Nationally, the Republican Party has opposed independent redistricting at virtually every turn, often suing to overturn popular ballot measures that create independent commissions. With the referendum delayed until 2020, a Republican repeal after the election is not out of the question since some of the same legislators who repealed a 2009 independent redistricting law still sit in the legislature.

Like its May and June antecedents, the Democratic proposal includes clear definitions of all the criteria to be considered along with a ban on the use of prior election results, polling information and other political data to draw the districts.

Republicans also put forward an independent redistricting law, their first, on August 12. The proposal lacks clear definitions for the commission on how district boundaries should be drawn to put an end to corrupt gerrymandering practices. Republicans also did not include a ban on the use of prior election results, polling information and other political data in their decision-making. 

“The proposal that the Democratic Caucus put forward is the strongest of the two laws, and I hope that my fellow legislators across the aisle will agree that the influence of partisan polling data and party registration should not be allowed to be used when a future commission draws district boundaries,” said Minority Leader Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).

Both laws are expected to be on the agenda for the September meetings, beginning with the September 5 committee meeting.

HISTORY OF INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING IN DUTCHESS

This is the FOURTH time that Democrats have put forward an independent redistricting law in the Dutchess County Legislature and the third time this year alone.

In 2009, a Democratic majority passed independent redistricting only to see a Republican majority repeal it after taking power in 2010 so they could draw districts to their political advantage following the 2010 census. For example, the Vassar campus and surrounding neighborhood was split across three separate legislative districts.

On May 13 and again on June 10, 2019, Democrats put forward a law calling for an Independent Redistricting Commission. Both laws were pulled by the Republican Chair of the Legislature Gregg Pulver and were not allowed onto the agenda to be discussed on the floor.

Prior to the May submission, a Republican-appointed advisory committee (Ethics and Reapportionment Committee) had voted to recommend that the legislature approve its own district lines instead of creating an independent commission. The committee was guided and assisted by Republican staffers from the County Executive and Legislative Chair’s office. After the Democratic law was put forward in May and public pressure for an independent commission, the committee changed its recommendation to a Commission structure and completed its work in June.

“While we applaud the Republicans’ election year change of heart and decision to move forward with a commission, they still have a long way to go before their law is strong enough for Dutchess County,” said Munn.

Any law to change how the districts are drawn would require a referendum and by refusing to consider a redistricting law until later in the year, Republicans ensured that the referendum could not happen until 2020 which gives the GOP time to repeal it after local elections just like they did last time.

Democrats met with Republicans in June and July to discuss how and whether to put forward a law together. Democrats insisted on stronger instructions to the commission on what could and could not be considered when drawing districts. Specifically, Democrats insisted that political party and election results could not be considered while districts should be equal in population, contiguous and compact and that definitions for those terms should be included as they were in the Democratic proposals. Republicans refused to put those elements in the final version of their law.

OTHER QUOTES:

“The process of creating legislative districts has become distorted such that elected officials of the majority party choose their voters instead of the voters choosing their elected officials,” said Legislator Francena Amparo (D-Wappingers).

“These changes will bring transparency to the process and put an end to the corrupt practice of gerrymandering of our county’s districts,” said Legislator Hannah Black (D-Hyde Park).

“Assigning an independent commission the task is the surest way to ensure that it’s done impartially, and any truly fair minded legislator would agree,” said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon).

SUMMARY:

  • Law changes the county charter, will be considered during Sept meetings
  • After passage, voters will vote up or down on the change next November
  • Republicans blocked consideration of independent redistricting in 2019 until now
  • Democrats passed independent redistricting in 2009 and Republicans repealed it in 2010/2011 so they could draw their own districts
  • Creates a seven member commission to redraw county legislative district lines after census for use in 2023 election
  • Two members picked by Democrats, two by Republicans and those four pick the last 3
  • No elected or party officials or county/state employees may serve on the commission
  • Five of the seven members must approve the plan for it to go into effect
  • Democratic plan says no polling, election results nor political data can be considered and includes clear instructions and definitions on how to draw districts
  • Republican plan allows commission to consider political data, provides unclear direction to commission for drawing districts
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