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Redistricting likely to cost NY two more seats

It’s a fact: New York state isn’t growing much, and because of that lack of growth, the state has lost 16 congressional seats since 1950. 

Based on 2010 U.S. Census figures, the state is going to lose even more in 2012 when the seats are up for reelection.

“We’re going to lose two more seats. There’s no secret about that. It’s inevitable,” said state Supreme Court Judge Richard Dollinger, who was a member of the redistricting commission (called the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment) in 2002.

Other states expected to lose seats include Ohio, Michigan and Illinois, while growing states such as South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Texas will gain.

The process of redrawing electoral district boundaries is done every 10 years and a new commission will begin the work when it is formed later this year or early in 2012.

“It’s much easier to do when you’re growing in seats and its toughest when you’re state is shrinking,” said former 26th District U.S. Rep. Tom Reynolds, now a senior strategic policy advisor with Nixon Peabody LLP. 

The districts affected won’t be known until the actual population distribution is calculated. However, Reynolds expects the area between Rochester and Syracuse to be one of the two seats cut along with one from eastern New York, possibly in the Catskills region. 

The redistricting commission holds statewide public hearings and makes its recommendations to the legislature, which also uses case law and the Voting Rights Act for guidance in setting district boundaries.

As Reynolds pointed out, redistricting decisions are almost always challenged in court.

In the 2004 case of Allen v. Pataki, 308 F.Supp.2d 346, for example, the plaintiffs challenged the districts Dollinger helped to create in 2002 on various grounds but the court’s decision to uphold the districts was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If the legislature fails to draw the lines then the courts will do it,” Reynolds said. “We see this debate every 10 years. The devil’s in the details. Courts have less of an understanding of the issues than the legislature, but the courts will do it if the legislature fails.”

Courts inherently rely on the one person, one vote standard delineated in the supreme court case of Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). In that case, the court said state legislative districts have to be roughly the same size in population.

Reynolds said New York’s redrawn districts will be larger and contain an average of 640,000 to 720,000 people in 2012.

Whoever draws the redistricting lines has to be able to justify even small deviations to existing districts with more than partisan interest. 

“They have to get together with a meeting of the minds for putting forth a fair and equitable redistricting plan for the 27 districts that represent the state of New York over the next 10 years,” Reynolds said, adding that the public deserves credit for providing  knowledgeable, valuable input.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed forming a non-political independent redistricting committee in The Redistricting Reform Act of 2011.

The new committee would consist of members reflecting geographical, racial, ethnic, and gender groups.

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