An important item will be on the ballot in November, the passage of which would do more to benefit New York state government in the future than any individual we elect. This year, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering, the dark political science of redrawing legislative districts to consolidate incumbent majority power and the biggest obstacle to free and fair elections.
Twenty-six state legislators have left office in the past 15 years due to criminal or ethical issues, according to the Citizens Union, a nonpartisan good-government organization that advocates for political reforms. Four of them resigned this year.
In addition to those 26, Sens. Tom Libous, John Sampson and Malcolm Smith have recently been indicted, and Assemblyman Micah Kellner is not seeking re-election due to a sexual harassment scandal.
In this age of partisan gridlock, we can note, at least, that the corruption in Albany is bipartisan: 24 of the legislators who have left or are now under indictment are Democrats, and six are Republicans. And neither is the scandal confined to one chamber: 17 members of the Assembly and 13 senators comprise the Dirty Thirty.
Redistricting, the legally required reshaping of all legislative districts to account for population shifts every 10 years, is used by the majority party not just for that purpose but to push supporters together and divide up those who would give the advantage to the minority party. This self-serving process yields way more sinister results than just contorted district shapes.
Redistricting as practiced here contorts the whole democratic process, with majority incumbents deciding, in effect, who will get to vote in their elections, as opposed to the way most folks think it ought to be: citizens choosing whom they will vote for. In our view, it’s a way of “fixing” elections. Rather than alter the ballot box mechanism to produce a different count, which would be too obviously criminal, politicians instead alter the mechanism that determines who gets to vote, by changing the district’s boundaries. And this is legal.