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Redistricting and transparency

July 23, 2014

When Sullivan County’s legislature redrew the border lines of the county’s legislative districts last week, it was over the objections of the supervisors of the towns of Highland and Lumberland, and one presumes many of their constituents. Other members of the public also spoke against the process. But the legislature went ahead with its approval anyway, arguing that, if they waited any longer to make a decision, and a petition drive for a permissive referendum reversing their decision were successful, the referendum would have to be voted on in a costly separate election rather than along with the other races in November (see story on page 3).

During the session, Highland Supervisor Boyar. pointing to the proposed District 2 border lines, said, “The district is so misshapen on its face that it begs the question of who played with this map? The Town of Highland is outraged that it is cut in half.”

Lumberland Supervisor Nadia Rajsz said, “The [town] supervisors especially should have been informed and invited to the sessions with the consultant.” She reported that when she tried to talk to the consultant, he told her he was not free to discuss the details.

Transparency in redistricting is essential for a successful process; lack of transparency invites suspicion and cynicism on the part of voters, and that is exactly what the legislators created when they did not open the process for public comment a long time ago. Because the presentation of the legislature’s plan was delayed until the 11th hour, the citizens’ only recourse is to gather enough signatures (around 2,500 according to one of the county’s Board of Elections commissioners) before September 2, demanding a November referendum.

Redistricting processes have also been controversial at the state and federal levels. Currently Common Cause, NYPIRG (the New York Public Interest Research Group), EffectiveNY and a handful of the state’s newspaper editorial boards are opposing a plan devised by New York State (NYS) lawmakers and supported by Gov. Cuomo to amend the state’s constitution regarding how redistricting is accomplished for state senate and assembly districts and U.S. congressional districts. The language of the referendum has not been finalized, but the provisions have been approved by state senators and assembly members in Albany.