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State Integrity Investigation cited in New York redistricting spat

Common Cause brief calls for transparency, cites an F for the Empire State

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 Updated:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Mike Groll/AP

Citing the state’s F grade for redistricting in the State Integrity Investigation, Common Cause/NY filed an amicus brief earlier this week supporting a challenge to the constitutionality of New York’s newly-drawn 63rd Senate district.

“The entire process was tremendously opaque,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY. “It is a very discouraging for the average citizen to see the state carved up in districts as a result of political negotiations behind closed doors.”

The Common Cause brief supports a lawsuit brought by New York Senate Democrats who claim that Senate Republicans, currently the majority, manipulated the state constitution’s population counting formula – used every 10 years to determine the size of the Senate –  to their advantage. The lawsuit alleges that Senate Republicans  applied two different methods of calculating census growth in different  counties,  allowing them to manipulate the numbers to give them an extra seat in Republican upstate New York.

The lawsuit was dismissed by the state Supreme Court on April 13. The court ruled that increasing the size of the state Senate was not unconstitutional, but found the use of different counting methods “disturbing.” A spokesman for Senate Republicans said “we were required to add a 63rd seat to comply with the Constitution.” Democrats appealed to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, and arguments are set for today.  

The Common Cause complaint takes issue not with the size of the state Senate, but with the process used for making the decision to expand – “without a scintilla of transparency or accountability,” as stated in the amicus brief.  The State Integrity Investigation was cited to bolster the advocacy group’s argument that the New York process took place behind closed doors, with little public input.

“We hope there will be clear standard that will be articulated by the court that will prevent blatant political manipulation of the size of senate in the future,” Lerner said.

The redistricting section of the State Integrity Investigation’s corruption risk scorecards asked questions on whether the state held public meetings or hearings where citizens could provide input on new district maps, whether the state accepted redistricting plans from the public, and whether the state made redistricting information available online.

The State Integrity Investigation found New York to be lacking in those areas. State Integrity Investigation reporter David King wrote that the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) held meetings around the state and invited public commentary, but that the task force is mostly considered a “dog and pony show.” Lines are typically drawn by legislative leaders in backroom deals, King wrote, and new maps are decided upon before LATFOR even meets.  

The 63-seat map was signed into law on March 15 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, along with the state Senate and Assembly.

Lerner said she expects a decision as early as next week. If the court rules in favor of the Democrats, the current map will be invalidated and the Senate will have to recalculate the number of districts.  

New York ranked 36th among the 50 states overall in the State Integrity Investigation and received a  grade of D.