Scarsdale, NY – Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) and New York State Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley) announce the passage of their legislation (A.229c/S.5160b) to require all counties in New York to follow set standards for fair legislative redistricting. “Fair redistricting is fundamental to democracy,” said Paulin. “This legislation will prevent towns like Scarsdale from being split and ensure redistricting standards are complied with regardless of whether the county happens to operate under a charter.”
"Representation matters, and for those living in self-chartered counties such as the three I represent, this legislation takes us one large step toward preserving the will of the people by standardizing how legislative districts are drawn and redrawn,” said Skoufis. “Just shy of 20 years in the making, this is a bill with serious teeth and I call on the Governor to sign it so that these reforms are enacted just in time for the 2022 once-a-decade county redistricting proposals. I am grateful to Assemblymember Paulin for her partnership and years of dedicated leadership on this issue."
Assemblymember Paulin first began fighting for fair county legislative districts when she was the president of the Scarsdale League of Women Voters (“LWV”) in 1991.At that time Scarsdale was split into two separate districts, and the Town of Scarsdale, along with the Scarsdale LWV, sued Westchester County on the grounds that the state Municipal Home Rule Law (“MHRL”) prohibits towns from being divided. The Town of Scarsdale’s lawsuit was dismissed due to lack of standing, and although the Scarsdale LWV lawsuit proceeded it was never decided by the courts.
Scarsdale, a small town of only 6.6 square miles, was then split into 3 districts in 1993. At that time Paulin, who was now the President of the County LWV, again sued the County over unfair redistricting. The case went to the NYS Supreme Court, and then to the appellate level. Ultimately the NYS Appellate Division upheld the lower court decision that Westchester County was not required to follow the criteria in the MHRL because it operates under a charter form of government and is bound only by the redistricting criteria in its charter.
The County had two subsequent redistricting cycles in 2001 and 2011, and fortunately the leadership in place at those times, including now County Executive George Latimer, who in 2001 Chaired the County Board of Legislators, facilitated a fair redistricting plan that involved members of the chamber’s minority party and outside “good government” groups, even though the legal requirements were not in place to require it.
Paulin and Skoufis’ legislation now requires the 23 counties in New York that operate under a charter to follow the same redistricting standards as all other counties in New York. Their bill also modernizes those standards to further ensure towns from being divided for unjust purposes and to bring the standards in line with generally accepted best practices for redistricting. Importantly, the updated standards include ensuring that equal weight is given to all residents in the allocation of representation, that districts are not drawn to favor voters of one political party, that districts are compact and contiguous, that districts are formed to promote the orderly and efficient administration of elections, and that districts are not drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minority groups to participate in the political process.
Henry Neale, a Scarsdale resident and the attorney who represented the LWV in its lawsuit, said, “All counties in New York State should follow the same standards for redistricting—something I have been advocating for a long time. It is not logical and clearly unfair that voters in a chartered county can have their votes diluted by splitting towns or packing members of one political party or another into a district, when voters in the rest of the state are protected.”
“This legislation will prevent towns like Scarsdale from being split into multiple legislative districts, which dilutes the vote of residents and leaves them without a clear, singular representative to advocate on their behalf,” said Paulin. “With this legislation, the integrity of cities, towns and villages in Westchester and other chartered counties will be preserved.”