REAPPORTIONMENT AND REDISTRICTING FOR THE NEXT DECADE
Since 1790, the United States has conducted a census every ten years to count the nation's population and its distribution among the states. Data from the 2010 census will be used to redraw the lines of Congressional, state and local voting districts that will prevail for the next ten years. The U.S. Constitution provides that each state, regardless of size and population, is allotted two seats in the United States Senate. Representation in the 435 member House is, however, determined differently; House seats are apportioned on the basis of each state's population relative to the total population of the nation. The latest statistics reveal that the U.S. population has increased by 27.3 million over the past decade to 308.7 million, with growth concentrated in the South and West. Dividing the total population by the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, suggests each reapportioned Congressional District will hold approximately 700,000 people. Although the population of New York State has grown by 2.1% to 19.4 million, the State will lose two of its current 29 House seats because there were larger gains elsewhere in the country.
Subsequent to passage of HAVA it became apparent that the systems must contain a paper
trail and many states, including New York, made this a requirement.
The new census data on population patterns within individual states will also necessitate redistricting, that is the redrawing of geographical boundaries which will be used for Congressional, state and local elections in 2012 and for the next ten years. The redistricting process is complex. Among the many criteria considered are whether voting districts are compact and contiguous, racial and ethnic minorities are fairly represented, communities of interest are respected, and the provisions of the Voting Rights Act are enforced. The relative size of populations in the various voting districts must also be evaluated. Although Congressional districts throughout the nation must be as closely identical in size as practicable, in New York State the population of Assembly and Senate districts have been permitted to deviate by plus or minus 5% which can result in a 10% difference overall -- a deviation which some good government groups believe is excessive.
The New York State Constitution empowers the legislature with the ultimate responsibility for redistricting federal and local voting districts. In the past, tacit political agreements between the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, who are often of different parties, have enabled each branch to redraw its voting lines independently, and then pass a concurrent redistricting bill without legislative challenge. Redistricting legislation may, however, be vetoed by the Governor and/or challenged in the courts. Legislators have a vested interest in drawing district lines in ways that will preserve their own political careers, protect the seats of incumbents and promote the dominance of their respective parties. As a consequence political considerations may often significantly impact the redistricting process producing bizarrely shaped "gerrymandered" districts. Many good government groups support reforms that would remove redistricting from political influences by transferring authority for the process from the legislature to an independent nonpartisan commission. Some, indeed, believe that the process can only be effectively reformed by amending the New York State Constitution.
One important reform was approved in August 2010 when legislation was enacted that provides that New York State prisoners will be counted at their home addresses rather than in the localities in which they are incarcerated. This change is expected to be in effect in drawing the district lines for the 2012 elections.
New York City Council districts will be redrawn by a fifteen member Districting Commission established under provisions of the City Charter; five of these members, one from each borough, will be appointed by the Council's majority party; three members, each from a different borough, will be appointed by the Council's minority party; and seven will be designated by the Mayor. New district lines will be in place in time for the 2013 City Council elections.