Truly independent redistricting vital to avoid 4th decade of special master-drawn maps
April 20, 2023
The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission is set to vote on the final Assembly map proposal and decide whether it should be sent to the legislature for approval.
Russell Weaver is an economic geographer with Cornell University’s ILR School Buffalo Co-Lab. He says that in order to avoid another decade of court-appointed special masters drawing the state’s legislative boundaries, it is essential to develop a truly independent redistricting process.
“Nearly two years after the Census Bureau released its 2020 legislative redistricting dataset, New York state remains without a new legislative map for its lower chamber, and the state’s updated Congressional district map appears to be headed back to court as the Governor and Attorney General seek to have the court-commissioned plan overturned ahead of the 2024 federal election cycle. Whereas the former issue might be resolved soon, given that a new bipartisan proposal for Assembly district lines is being rolled out and potentially sent to the legislature for final approval, the fight over Congressional district lines is ongoing.
“While comments from the Governor and Attorney General reflect commitments to public participation and democratic decision-making in redistricting, the hard truth is that even if the court does allow a do-over at this stage, the initial failure to pass a plan exposed much deeper structural issues that cannot be overlooked. Despite best intentions, the constitutional amendment that established the Independent Redistricting Commission ensures that redistricting in New York state will remain a politicized affair that is prone to gridlock.
“To avoid a fourth consecutive decade of court-appointed special masters drawing our state’s legislative boundaries, between now and 2030 it is vital for New York to move toward a truly independent, resident-led redistricting process that places the authority to redistrict in the hands of the people. Toward that end, the state might look to local innovation, like Syracuse’s independent commission and resulting resident-drawn legislative map, for inspiration.”
David Shmoys, professor of operations research and information engineering, developed a mathematical model to inject fairness into the typically politicized process of redistricting.
“Modern computational tools can support policy makers tasked with producing legislative districting maps – optimization methods can provide both a broader array of potential plans as well as the means to evaluate multi-faceted metrics in weighing these alternatives. The approach that we have engineered produces maps that can respect community boundaries and ensure a specific number of majority minority districts.
“Reducing the efficiency gap can be attained with maps restricted to regularly shaped districts, without the typical ‘gerrymandered’ appearance of filigreed boundaries. This computational flexibility facilitates a process where the good features of one plan can be melded with other features of another to yield new insights into maps that previously might not have been considered. An open platform for producing such a rich portfolio of alternatives will enhance the public discussion of the pros and cons of proposed solutions, and serves to engage the public in the process overall.”