It is game time again in Albany as the decennial legislative realignment is under way. As a starter, the Republican Senate has found it necessary to add a 63rd Senate seat to respond to population changes. Previously in 2002, the Republican Senate added two Senate seats to protect their political majority in the face of larger Democratic and fewer Republican voters.
Currently, Democratic enrolled voters in New York have a 2-to-1 advantage over Republican ones. By reducing the number of eligible voters in each Senate district, the Republican majority hopes to maintain their majority in the Senate, which they have controlled for over 40 years by this political gerrymandering. The additional Republican Senate seats would protect Republican districts in rural and Northern New York constituencies.
The state Constitution provides for 150 Assembly seats, and its size can only be changed by constitutional amendment. The change of the Senate size does not need constitutional amendment, only by legislative law.
In 1962 the one man one vote rule by the U.S. Supreme Court required that legislative districts be equal in population size with only very small variations. The increase in the Senate districts was a way that the historical New York Republican Senate districts could retain their political ascendancy. This current realignment bill in the Senate has been put forward by Republican Senate leaders after the New York State Joint Legislative Task Force moved forward without mentioning this increase in Senate numbers during statewide realignment hearings.
The Assembly can nix the increase in the Senate size by not approving the legislative redistricting bill; historically each house chooses its districts without outside interference. That has been the way in which redistricting has evolved unless the governor vetoes the proposed law which has not yet been vetoed by any governors over time.
The Assembly Democratic majority is very close to a 2-to-1 advantage in membership and obviously wants to bring cloture to redistricting to retain its majority.
It looks like the nonpartisan redistricting, which many legislators signed on to, is on the shelf. The governor has indicated he would not sign a redistricting law which does not reach fairness and equality, but little has been said in Albany recently about nonpartisan redistricting, particularly during the hearings of the Joint Legislative Task Force.
Without this increase, Republicans would lose district population, particularly in those upstate districts losing prisoner population which are now to be counted in their residential districts. Hopefully, the governor and the Assembly will reject this gimmick and quash it.