PLATTSBURGH - The League of Women Voters of New York State is inviting the public to learn more about how redistricting affects their lives.
The nonpartisan coalition is hosting forums across the state to discuss the timely issue of reforming how congressional and state legislative districts lines are drawn. On Feb. 17, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, which establishes an Independent Redistricting Commission to permanently reform how congressional and state legislative districts lines are drawn in New York.
LWVNYS executive director Laura Ladd Bierman said the goal of the forums is to show how redistricting currently works and give attendees the nonpartisan information they need to decide whether they support the current process.
"The presentation is meant for people who know nothing about redistricting. We are going to run through a PowerPoint that we've created that explains how it works, what the problems are and what we propose as a league, for changes," said Bierman.
According to Bierman, the way redistricting is handled currently is "whoever is in power in each of the houses - the Assembly and the Senate - basically draws the line."
"What has happened, traditionally, is the Senate has been Republican, and the Assembly has been Democrat and they both don't really care what the other one does," said Bierman. "So, they pass their bills, even though in the Senate they draw the line to favor the republicans and in the Assembly they draw the line to favor the Democrats."
"When the Assembly draws the line, they're going to put a lot of the smaller districts population-wise down by the city, so they'll have a lot more districts down there, which is typically more Democratic," explained Bierman. "If you look at the lines when they're drawn by the Senate, they typically will put the smaller districts upstate, so they can have more districts upstate, which would mean more Republicans."
Either body will also draw a line based on whether someone in the current district has challenged an incumbent legislator, said Bierman.
"If they got 46 percent of the vote in the last election, for example, there's a line usually drawn to get that challenger out of that district," she said. "What we say is that there's an incumbency protection plan the way the redistricting plan is right now. It helps the incumbent and it helps the parties that are in power right now."
The process is one that has been allowed to continue, said Bierman, however Cuomo has gone on record with his frustration for the broken system which " has prioritized incumbency and partisan interests over democratic representation."
Regardless of how both houses decide, if the governor finds their decisions are based on partisan politics, he has the ability to veto their decisions, which would then send the matter before the courts for an impartial decision.
"Which is something none of them really want because then it's none of them deciding where to draw the line," said Bierman. "We want it to be a totally independent nonpartisan plan."
The Plattsburgh League of Women Voters will host a forum to discuss the redistricting process this Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Plattsburgh Town Office Building, 151 Banker Road, beginning at 1 p.m.
The meeting will include comments from LWVNYS legislative director Barbara Bartoletti, who will give further background on the political history of redistricting.
For more information, including the full text of Cuomo's Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, visit www.plattsburgh.ny.lwvnet.org.