Brewington and Altschuler Times-Union Op-Ed: Let Electoral Maps Protect State's Diversity

Albany Times Union

By Frederick Brewington and Daniel Altschuler

What is New York's legislative task force on redistricting hiding?

LATFOR, as it's known, delayed releasing its draft state legislative maps until late January, compressing the time for public review. It then held the first hearing only two business days later.

LATFOR still hasn't released drafts of the state's new congressional districts, and it has again delayed releasing revised maps for the Legislature.

LATFOR's dawdling gives opponents less time to respond. It amounts to an intentional effort by legislators from both parties to force problematic maps down our throats.

So, again, what exactly are these people hiding?

Every decade, we redraw our electoral maps to reflect New York's dynamism and diversity. If one county loses population disproportionately, it should have less weight in the state Legislature. If one city's population surges, its voters should obtain greater representation. Throughout the process, minorities' voting rights must be protected.

LATFOR's first round of maps clearly violated these principles. Good government advocates have lambasted the commission for protecting incumbents' and parties' interests over communities' well-being. But nothing is more troubling than the effective disenfranchisement that LATFOR's proposed maps portend for communities of color.

The first problem is the upstate — downstate divide. Each downstate Senate district has a larger-than-average population, while districts north of Westchester County have smaller populations. Put simply, downstate New Yorkers' votes would count less than those of upstate New Yorkers.

And "downstate" is not just New York City. On Long Island, where almost all recent population growth has been among communities of color, LATFOR's Senate map packs more residents into each proposed district than the state average. The areas that would be effectively disenfranchised — New York City and Long Island — are areas with high concentrations of people of color.

If not for communities of color, New York's population would have declined since 2000. Census data reveals that, while the state's population increased by roughly 500,000 since 2000, the Latino population has increased by 560,000.

And yet, LATFOR's maps dilute minorities' political muscle. As groups like the NAACP and Make the Road New York have insisted, LATFOR creates too few districts where minorities would likely be represented by someone who responds to their interests. For instance, Common Cause's maps ensure seven more minority "influence" Senate districts and four more majority-minority Assembly districts than LATFOR's do.

The disparity is even more striking on Long Island, where all nine state senators are white men.

Since 2000, Long Island's population increased by approximately 80,000. But without the increase in Latinos and African-Americans, the population would have declined. African-Americans and Latinos now account for over 20 percent of Long Island's population, with overwhelming majorities in areas of Hempstead, Babylon and Islip.

And yet the nine proposed state Senate districts appear eerily similar to their predecessors. With large white majorities in each district, and with sharp lines dividing majority-minority communities, white men would likely continue to hold all nine seats.

Tired of political games that protect incumbents and parties at their expense, these communities have responded. For instance, in Brentwood, 25 organizations, like the Long Island Immigrant Alliance and New York Communities for Change, denounced the fissuring of their communities. They are calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to veto LATFOR's unfair maps and work towards a long-term solution for fair redistricting.

LATFOR has said its proposals will comply with the law. But, if its redistricting plan doesn't dilute the political power of New Yorkers of color, then what's taking the commission so long to show us?

Frederick Brewington is a civil rights lawyer in Hempstead. Daniel Altschuler is coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table (www.licivicengagement.org), a coalition to increase civic participation in communities of color.


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