Contextualizing New York’s Mess: A Look at Redistricting Follies in History

| March 15, 2012 8:21 AM | Updated: March 15, 2012 1:20 PM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made redistricting reform a priority in his 2010 campaign. Now that things haven't gone according to plan in the legislature, those reforms may have to wait until 2022. AP/Hans Pennink

2011 was supposed to be the year that major reforms were brought to the New York State redistricting process. For years, good government groups have claimed that Albany politicians unfairly gerrymander districts to favor incumbents, disempowering and disenchanting voters.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Senate’s Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos both promised to create an independent panel to draw legislative and Congressional district lines during their 2010 campaigns. But on Wednesday, the governor cut a deal with the legislature to accept their non-independent redistricting plan, in exchange for a guarantee to pass a State Constitutional amendment that would require the creation of an independent redistricting commission in the 2022 redistricting process.

Good government groups have been split on the issue, with some willing to accept the concessions, and others very vocally opposed to it. Meanwhile, the other new districts that have to be created — the Congressional maps — were drawn up by federal magistrate judge Roanne L. Mann on Monday, and are now being investigated by a federal judicial panel. This year’s Congressional primaries are scheduled for June 26, and legislative primaries will take place on Sept. 11, though it’s still possible those dates could change.

The Center for Urban Research has created interactive maps that allow you to see where the legislature and Congress districts currently stand.

An abridged version of the long and complex 2011-2012 redistricting story could read, “quite a mess.” But a glimpse into some of the redistricting processes of the past shows that it certainly isn’t the first mess, and probably won’t be the last.

In the 1960s, states were still using the same legislative districts they’d been using since the turn of the century, when cities were small and the majority of Americans lived on farms. Cities weren’t receiving proper representation, and until the landmark 1962 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr, courts had refused to take on the states’ failure to redistrict.

The fallout of that ruling, which decided that redistricting was justiciable, created waves of legal battles, imaginative attempts at gerrymandering and political head-scratching as politicians across the country tried to figure out how the process was supposed to work.

“The mess we have now is because politics has paralyzed them [the State legislature], but in the late ’50s and ’60s it was because they couldn’t figure out what the rules were,” said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School.

In 1953, Former Illinois Gov. William Stratton forced House and Senate members to redraw district maps for the first time since 1901. Things went swimmingly until a major debacle in 1964, when all Illinois House members were elected at-large. AP Photo

One of the wackiest of the United State’s ’60s redistricting flubs occurred in Illinois.

Recognizing Chicago’s extreme under-representation early on, in 1953 Illinois Gov. William Stratton convinced the State legislature to create an amendment, requiring both House and Senate members to redistrict themselves. If they didn’t, a bipartisan commission would do it for them. By 1955, both chambers had pulled it off. But then, in 1963, the House found itself  stalled over how many districts would be moved from the bottom of the state to the top. Eventually, they created a plan, the governor vetoed it and the bipartisan commission was charged with cleaning up the mess. Except the commission also couldn’t agree on a plan before their deadline, so in 1964 all members of the House were elected at large, meaning they were elected by the entire body of state voters rather than by their individual districts. The commission finally passed a plan in 1971.

In the same era in New York, there were similar complications, which might sound familiar to contemporary voters.

In 1961, the radio station WMCA filed a lawsuit claiming the state legislature’s apportionment was unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t touch it. After Baker v. Carr, the radio station and its allies tried again, and in 1964 the court agreed with them. A district court ruled that the legislature had to create a new redistricting plan. Perhaps a little overzealous, they created four, figuring one would stick. Three were ruled unconstitutional by federal judges, and the fourth was tossed out, since it called for more Assembly members than the state was legally allotted. The federal court told them to try again. They did, and when they failed again in 1965, a federally appointed panel of retired judges finally did it for them the following year.

In California, voters tried to turn the tables on the legislature in 1982.

In 1981, both bodies of the California legislature were controlled by Democratic majorities who swiftly enacted a redistricting plan for the Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts. In 1982, Republicans, standing to be bruised by the plan, fought back by introducing three voter referendums to overturn the Democrats’ plan. Voters overturned the plan, but the state Supreme Court had ruled decided the plan would be used in the 1982 elections. The Assembly rushed to create another voter referendum, which would have required their district map to be used through 1991. Shockingly, voters defeated their proposition and in 1983 the legislature had to redistrict again.

In the last decade, Texas and Colorado took on weird mid-cycle redistricting plans.

Normally, redistricting happens every ten years, following the release of new Census data. But sometimes a moment so rare arrives that it must be seized upon. Such was the case in 2002, when Texas Republicans won control of the state legislature for the first time in 130 years. Beginning in 2001, Rep. Tom Delay (R) began raising funds for a PAC called Texans for a Republican Majority. In 2003, they released a new Congressional district map — the infamous Plan 1374C. Democrats cried “gerrymandering” and argued the redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act by illegally weakening the power of black and Latino voters. But to no avail. The Republicans beat the Democrats in the 2004 Congressional election. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the mid-cycle redistricting was legal, but that in one heavily Latino district the legislature had indeed violated the Voting Rights Act and forced lawmakers to redraw that district’s lines.

These two maps show the results of the 2003 (left) and 2004 (right) Texas House elections. Democrats filed a lawsuit, and in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the lines of one district violated the Voting Rights Act. Photo courtesy of enotes.

In Colorado, back in 2001, before full Census figures were released, Democrats in control of the State Senate convinced the Republican controlled House to agree to a special session, in which they created a bicameral body to draw new district maps. After a district court judge ruled that the lawmakers hadn’t produced a viable plan, the judge drew his own map in 2002. The Republicans kept their majority in the House and scored an extra Senate seat in that year’s elections, but the fight wasn’t over. In  2003, the Republicans drew up a new map, which Democrats dubbed “the midnight gerrymander” in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which the court refused to hear. And that’s how Colorado operated under a judicially created redistricting map until 2011.

  • http://www.alanisutopia.com/yabbse/index.php?action=profile;u=16560 Toi Kato

    I besides believe therefore , perfectly indited post! .

  • http://forum.2twinz.com/index.php?action=profile;u=214262 iphone repair

    Having UPS as our freight carrier your shipping time will be very swift. Our 24 hour turnaround promise is not some thing that we take without due consideration, it really happens. Your device shows up at our store, we fix it, and it generally ships back out that day, but definitely ships back out within 24 hours (occasionally longer for water damage).

  • http://allaboutcoldsores.areavoices.com/ Preston Macchiarella

    Incredible post! Found you while searching Bing and glad that I did.

  • http://directory-pr.info/index.php?q=hair-cloning.eu Gino Tremore

    Very interesting discussion glad that I came across such informative post. Keep up the good work friend. Glad to be part of your net community.

  • http://httphitech-faq.comthere-are-two-various-kinds-of-admirer-clutch-specifically-non-thermal-also-known-as-centrifugal-clutches-and-also-the-thermal-fan-clutch-system Johnathon Stilphen

    Thanx for a very interesting web site. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal approach? I have a undertaking that I’m just now working on, and I’ve been at the look out for such information.

  • http://elmobirthdayinvitations.jimdo.com/ Paz Maddison

    Heya! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any trouble with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?

  • http://quadcitiesrelocation.wordpress.com davenport-ia.posterous.com

    Thanks for your posting. One other thing is that if you are promoting your property by yourself, one of the issues you need to be aware of upfront is how to deal with property inspection reviews. As a FSBO retailer, the key to successfully transferring your property and also saving money in real estate agent commission rates is know-how. The more you already know, the more stable your home sales effort might be. One area in which this is particularly essential is inspection reports.

  • http://groups.diigo.com/group/glywducgvgegodqqduak/content/the-best-un-detected-rs-bot-as-well-as-duplicator-4509866 This Site

    That for sure helped me thanks a bunch. I really have been lookin on tons of other blogs! I just shared it with a number of buddies recently.

  • http://blogtext.org/aishakibarker/rss/indexFeed.xml bicicletas puerto rico

    I think you’re over-simplifying the issue. Yeah, the electoral college comes with problems, and yes, I think we could do fine without it, but instant dismissal of it would be unfeasible. Then again, this is a short youtube video, so there’s not time for everything. I’d definitely be interested in hearing a response to the criticisms in favor of keeping the US as a republic. Specifically: People are stupid. And I don’t trust myself, either, since I don’t pay enough attention to politics.

  • http://ogrodzeniazpcv.salonik.net/ Ogrodzenia PCV

    Say “thanks” you for your mothers and fathers which they gave you the world

  • http://bonsaipoznanp.blog.com/ Amarylis

    Thanks for what you’ve got. This really is the most effective article I’ve read

  • http://www.unrarx.com/vanilla/comments.php?DiscussionID=49565 Olen Cai

    After I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

  • http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/west_virginia_used_to_be_almos.html Minta Schlembach

    Butterfly Trout is a good place to educate yourself all about how to prepare trout fish after catching it. Wonderful blog!

  • http://www.wordswithfriendscheating.com words with friends cheating

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet savvy so I’m not 100% certain. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Kudos

  • http://www.wordsdepot.com/Article/Wall-stickers-make-you-happy-throughout-winter-months/768276 Lenard Perrington

    Great beat ! I wish to apprentice at the same time as you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a blog website? The account aided me a applicable deal. I had been a little bit familiar of this your broadcast offered vivid clear idea

  • http://besttablet2012.cuzo.com/myposts clicky

    I arrived right here in order to learn about a little something entirely several than just what I could. I adore to digest as considerable different info as feasible, it is the greatest part relating to life. People include a web site too, click on the link to come on by as well as see what we are accessing.

  • http://www.reversecanada.com/lookup/8889214013/ 888-921-4013
  • http://www.yourfilm.pl filmowanie wesel

    I am often to running a blog and i really admire your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your web site and keep checking for brand spanking new information.

  • http://arduino.cc/forum/index.php?action=profile;u=74834 Click here

    I truly love your website.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own blog and would like to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Thank you!

  • http://katalos58.eu/497/iphone/ aplikacje na iphone

    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

  • http://freestandingpullupbar.blog.co.uk/ diy free standing pull up bar

    My brother recommended I may like this website. He used to be entirely right. This post truly made my day. You cann’t consider simply how a lot time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  • http://Scharmer@gmail.com Fotografia slubna

    This is the arrange blog alee anyone who wants pending find out about this background. You achieve so so its almost entirely manfully prior argue added to I (by no means that alter beyond question would want…HaHa). You at any rate put enterpriser fresh turning in virtue of a architecture thats been foredoomed term moving eternity. Great addictive drug, objective but good!

  • http://www.pmujlepirt.com Galen Donica

    Very good site thank you so much for your time in writing the posts for all of us to learn about.

  • http://www.myspace.com/583441792 free standing pull up bar plans

    Great items from you, man. I’ve be mindful your stuff previous to and you’re just too magnificent. I really like what you’ve received here, certainly like what you are saying and the best way in which you assert it. You are making it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it wise. I cant wait to learn far more from you. This is really a great website.

  • http://stonegolem7174.publr.com/post/1231226 read this

    I might exactly like to say Great submit, many thanks for that. Might I question the blogger where he or she purchased his design? Or does it appear default at this web log? Keep it up and bless you again for your time and effort.

  • http://chrisestes25632.tumblr.com/ Product Review

    As a blow owner I believe the material here is reallyfantastic. I appreciate it for your time. You should keep it up forever! Good Luck.

  • http://blogs.elcorreo.com/aquimadeblog/ arquitectura

    I do not even understand how I ended up here, but I believed this post used to be good. I do not understand who you’re however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

  • ggtrain

    Are you aware of the remarkable New York residtricting case Cooper vs. Power?
     
    Andrew W. Cooper, Joan Maynard and Paul Kerrigan challenged the gerrymandering of central Brooklyn. The federal courts agreed with the plaintiffs and the 12th Congressional district was redrawn. The change resulted in the historic 1968 election of Shirley Chisholm. More political change occurred in the 1980s in Queens.

    Nevertheless, in the 21st century gerrymandering and resdistricting abuse remains rampant and the struggle for a better system continues.

    Read more in Wayne Dawkins’ new biography “City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn [July 1, University Press of Mississippi].

↑ Back to top

About Us    Contact Us    The MetroFocus Team   Mobile   WNET Pressroom   Privacy Policy    Terms of Service

Ford FoundationMutual of America

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, the Ford Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Charlotte and David Ackert, Jody and John Arnhold, Betty and John Levin, and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America.
© 2014 WNET    All Rights Reserved.    825 Eighth Avenue    New York, NY 10019