Let’s flash forward to November 2012: The leaves are in full bloom, you’re getting ready for the holidays, and the Yankees have just won the World Series again (sorry Mets fans).
It’s also time to vote. You’re registered and ready to have a say in who represents your community. Democracy is about you, right?
But it’s too late. State politicians in Albany have already decided who will represent you when they drew district lines back in the beginning of the year. You’re stuck with Assemblyman X and Senator Y, whether you like it or not.
This isn’t a dystopian fantasy: In 2006, no incumbent lost a race for the New York State Senate or Assembly. That either means that New Yorkers think all state politicians are doing a fantastic job, or the system is rigged.
At the heart of the issue is a process called redistricting, which is currently happening in New York State. Every ten years, state electoral district lines are recalibrated, supposedly to account for demographic changes documented in the census. The real truth is that redistricting, as practiced in New York, is the process by which politicians pick the voters they’d like to represent. After much wrangling between parties, a task force made up of members of the State Legislature releases district lines that often cut through communities, all with the hope that the incumbent – Democrat or Republican – can stay in office. It’s political self-interest at its most obvious.
It’s offensive to the concept of democracy, of course. But it means more than that. For example, on Long Island, gerrymandered districts pose a particular threat to black, Latino, and immigrant communities. According to analysis from groups like the NAACP, the Long Island Civic Participation Project, and Common Cause NY, the current electoral maps “crack” communities of color, particularly in the Hempstead and Brentwood area. That means that when election time rolls around, residents will have diminished voting power.
Letting politicians pick their voters, instead of the other way around, is the wrong way to go about it. But it’s not the only option. New York’s electoral maps should be drawn by an independent body that weighs a number of factors in making districts “fair,” with protecting incumbents at the bottom of the list of priorities.
What can you do to challenge the redistricting process? Start by emailing testimony to LATFOR, the legislative task force charged with drawing district lines firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Long Island Wins website longislandwins.com for updates on the issue and Common Cause NY citizenredistrictny.org for a more detailed explanation of the redistricting process. Come November, make your vote count.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the executive director of Long Island Wins, a nonprofit organization that promotes practical immigration solutions that work for everyone, rooted in respect and dignity for all. Visit its website at www.LongIslandWins.com.