By Michael Gormley
ALBANY — New York’s Legislature Thursday proposed adding four election districts that would be dominated by Asian-American voters in New York City, and the Senate would add a 63rd seat under a long-awaited redistricting plan.
The Assembly would create three districts in Asian-American neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. The Senate would also reconfigure election lines in Queens to form an Asian-majority district.
The Republican majority in the 62-seat Senate wants to add a seat in Democrat-dominated Albany County by carving out a suburban section dominated by Republican voters. The GOP senators said census data and voting rights laws demand the addition in the Albany area because it has grown faster than many other places in the state. It costs about $1 million a year to pay for a legislator’s salary, staff and other resources.
Senate Democrats accused Republicans of creating the seat only to try to bolster their slim 32-30 majority. Democrats had a 32-30 majority from 2008-2010, after a vote that benefited from a big Democratic turnout for Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. Democrats hoping for another strong Obama showing this fall to win back control say redistricting strengthens the Republicans’ chances despite a nearly 2-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage statewide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeated Thursday that he will veto lines not drawn by an independent commission. The Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans have refused to turn the process over to an independent commission despite their promises to do so in the 2010 elections. The Senate’s Democratic majority, now complaining about the Republicans, also promised an independent process while they were in charge from 2008-10, but didn’t pass it.
Good-government groups have long criticized the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years with new census data. The groups say the legislative majorities use it to protect their members by stacking districts with their party’s voters. They say the process allows lawmakers to pick their voters before voters have a chance to pick them.
Redistricting has bolstered the 95 percent re-election rate for incumbents in Albany, leading to decades-long careers, despite polls showing overall public disdain for the Legislature.
Cuomo, a Democrat, criticized the Legislature for “an unduly political process that will result in unduly political lines.”
“I’m sure the courts will be involved in this process,” Cuomo said in a news conference before the legislative lines were released. “I don’t know where it will end.”
A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week involving redistricting in Texas may limit a governor’s ability to change a legislature’s proposal. That decision rules that redistricting is a legislative matter.
In addition, federal court in Albany is still weighing when New York’s primaries should be held. The traditional September date had been determined to be too late to provide adequate time for military personnel assigned overseas to vote in primaries.
Cuomo noted the need to determine election districts in time for campaigns and elections or risk chaos in New York if disputes over redistricting continue. U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe could move the New York primary to as early as June.
For elected officials, incumbents with name recognition and established campaign funds would have an advantage over challengers who are waiting to see what district to run in and what communities are in that district.