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Advocates: Language Loaded for Changes to State's Boundaries for Voting Districts

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Advocates: Language Loaded for Changes to State's Boundaries for Voting Districts
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- This November voters will consider a change to the state's process of drawing boundaries for congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts. But for good-government advocates, the language before voters on the ballot is loaded -- especially when it comes to calling the commission drawing lines independent.

"In this case they're describing it as independent when it's anything but. The legislature appoints the members of the commission, the legislature approves what the commission comes up with and if they don't, the legislature gets to draw the lines themselves. Hardly seems independent to us," said Blair Horner, the NYPIRG legislative director.

The proposed redistricting commission is the product of a compromise between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in 2012. Cuomo settled for an altered redistricting process after threatening to veto lines drawn by state lawmakers. Now voters will have the final say, but at 155 words, the proposed constitutional amendment is potentially difficult for voters to comprehend.

"It's just confusing. It's not concise. We suggested basically a short sentence that a voter can understand," said Susan Lerner, the Common Cause executive director.

Also problematic for advocates is the removal of language that explained to voters that lawmakers had final approval over the new district lines.

"That language was taken out and replaced by something much more confusing and not nearly as clear," Lerner said.

Redistricting is an important force in politics. It can either help keep incumbents in power or make elections more open to challengers. And that's what the new commission does, according to the League of Women Voters.

"This will have no legislators that sit on the commission, there will be no lobbyists, no spouses of legislators. So there is an actual sense that for the first time in this state we could have what is really an independent commission," said Barbara Bartoletti, the League of Women Voters legislative director.

Bartoletti said the commission is a major improvement from the current practice of allowing a lawmaker-driven panel to draw their own boundaries.

"It does not say that the legislature can draw up their own plan. They get two bites at this commission apple and after those two bites they can amend it based on certain criteria. They can't change it wholesale," said Bartoletti.

The next round of redistricting is scheduled for 2022.

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