Scarsdale, NY – Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) announces that Governor Kathy Hochul has signed her bill into law amending Sections 10 and 34 of the municipal home rule law which provides that the redrawing of county legislative district lines is first and foremost governed by state requirements ensuring fairness and equity.
“Fair redistricting is fundamental to democracy,” said Paulin. “By requiring all counties in New York to follow set standards for fair legislative redistricting, this law keeps communities of interest whole, protects minority voting rights, and gives residents a clear, singular representative to advocate on their behalf. Voters across New York State can now rest assured that their votes will not be diminished by the drawing of unfair legislative districts."
Now enacted, the legislation (A.229c/S.5160b) is effective immediately.
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. Paulin, who at that time was 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.
This legislation 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. It also modernizes those standards to bring them in line with generally accepted best practices for redistricting.
Pursuant to the new law, lines must be drawn in a manner that ensures:
(1) Districts are as nearly equal in population as is practicable;
(2) Districts are not drawn with the intent or result of denying equal opportunity of racial or language minority groups to participate in the political process;
(3) Districts consist of contiguous territory;
(4) Districts are not drawn to favor incumbents or any particular party or candidate, or unjustly divide communities of interest, including smaller municipalities; and
(5) Districts are formed to promote orderly and efficient administration of elections.
“County redistricting should first and foremost be subject to standardized state and federal constitutional requirements in order to ensure fairness and equity,” said Paulin. “It is in this way that we preserve the will of the people of New York State. Politicians should be chosen by voters – not the other way around.”
This bill is sponsored in the New York State Senate by Senator James Skoufis.