Every 10 years when it’s time for congressional and legislative redistricting, New York state senators and assemblymembers in Albany have typically been in charge of drawing new boundaries, except when they can’t come to an agreement.
Following the 2010 Census, New York was apportioned 27 congressional seats. This year, following the 2020 Census, the state will lose one seat under reapportionment, bringing the state’s congressional delegation down to 26.
Something else is new too: For the first time, thanks to the approval of a state constitutional amendment in 2014, the process of redistricting will be handled, at least initially, by a so-called Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).
The idea behind the commission is to implement some standards in drawing lines, and to ensure that at least some of the politics is taken out of the redistricting process.
But at the county level in New York state, redistricting is still the wild west — if you live in a self-chartered county where leaders aren’t required to follow any standards at all.
“Currently, 23 of the 57 counties outside the city of New York have organized their administrative systems under the provisions of a county charter,” according to the New York State Association of Counties. “The 34 'non-charter' counties abide by the provisions of the County Law and the Municipal Home Rule Law to adopt their administrative structure.”
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Scarsdale Democrat, has been fighting this process since the early 1990s when she led that community’s chapter of the League of Women Voters.
“What we saw in Westchester, was that Scarsdale was, and still is, a very Democratic town. The county board at the time was Republican and the way they thought they were going to keep their majoriy was to essentially divide up my little town," Paulin said.
Paulin’s fight went all the way up to the Court of Appeals, where she lost.
“We learned that, because Westchester was a chartered county, it didn’t have to follow the whole Municipal Home Rule Law, which outlined standards — one of which was, you had to respect municipal lines,” Paulin explained.
Fast forward 30 years.
Paulin has represented Scarsdale, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, Bronxville, Pelham, Pelham Manor, and parts of New Rochelle and White Plains since 2001. She also chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.
Teaming up with follow Hudson Valley lawmaker, state Sen. James Skoufis, Paulin introduced legislation (A.229c/S.5160b) that would update the provisions of the Municipal Home Rule Law (MHRL).
The bill passed this session and awaits the governor’s signature.
The guidelines include a directive that counties should follow political subdivision lines to the extent applicable during redistricting.
The question is, will Gov. Kathy Hochul sign Paulin’s anti-gerrymandering legislation when she told The New York Times she’s willing to help the Democrats remain in power.
“We will see what the commission brings on Wednesday,” Paulin said referring to the Independent Redistricting Commission’s expected release of the first draft of New York’s new congressional maps.
“I believe that fair redistricting and fair standards, and standards generally, produce a map that’s reflective of the population,” she explained. “And the population happens to be Democratic in New York state, for the most part.”
Several of the standards included in the Paulin-Skoufis bill were part of the 2014 amendment to the New York State Constitution, which applied redistricting standards to the drawing of congressional and state legislative districts. By adding these standards to MHRL, they would also apply to the drawing of county legislative districts.
These updated standards include the following:
- Districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable
- Districts are not drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minority groups to participate in the political process.
- Districts are contiguous and compact
- Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties
- The maintenance of cores of existing districts, of pre-existing political subdivisions including cities, villages, and towns, and of communities of interest shall also be considered.
- To the extent practicable, no villages or cities or towns except those having more than forty percent of a full ratio for each district shall be divided
- Districts are formed to promote the orderly and efficient administration of election