This week, the redistricting drama continues. In case you forgot, redistricting is that complicated process every 10 years when states across the country redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries based on Census data.
Well, there’s been a lot of controversy in New York this time around about the way those lines are drawn and their impact on ethnic groups that live in the city — and new data to be presented next week could shake things up further. Next Tuesday in Albany, the state will discuss new stats about prisoner populations, which could have a meaningful impact on how lines are drawn and the campaigns of redistricting advocacy groups.
Some quick background: A law passed in 2010 says that prisoners must be counted based on their last known addresses, not their location of incarceration. That would impact nearly 60,000 prisoners, many who come from New York City but are sent upstate to prison.
The changes could add residents and change lines in Central Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, Harlem and the South Bronx, and upstate — where there are large incarcerated populations — Senate District 45 (which includes Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties), District 34 (which includes parts of Westchester), and District 59 (which includes Ontario and Erie counties) could face population losses.
The state task force that handles redistricting recently posted files with updated information online and will formerly adopt this new prison data on Tuesday, an official confirmed to Runnin’ Scared. For advocates who have produced their own maps and recommendations over the last several months, this new information could impact their positions.
“Without that data, our lines are based on incomplete data,” Jerry Vattamala, a staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Runnin’ Scared. “Any group that wants to submit proposed district lines is working with an incomplete data set. We have to reevaluate.”
His group, part of the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy, want to ensure that ethnic communities with similar interests are not unfairly split up in the new districts, which dilutes their voting power.
In a different part of the debate, there are also folks calling for a reformed independent redistricting process — an agenda that Gov. Cuomo pushed forward earlier in the week in his State of the State address. He argued that New York needs to put the public interest ahead of the interest of incumbents by taking the power of drawing lines away from elected officials.
(He didn’t actually mention redistricting in his speech — it was one of several topics, like fracking, that was in the book given out at the speech but not actually mentioned in his live talk.)
Cuomo says he will veto any lines not developed through an independent process.
For the groups more concerned with fair results, a veto could actually be a bad thing. As long as the new maps give fair representation to minority groups, it doesn’t matter if electeds or an independent group drew them, Vattamala said.
“It’s great to see the governor still has redistricting on his mind,” said James Hong, civic participation coordinator for MinKwon Center for Community Action, a Queens-based civic group also pushing for fairer districts. “We hope that part of his concern will be for the impact on minority communities, including Asian Americans.”