This is a little bit difficult to explain conceptually, so bear with me as I try to convince you of this: Because of way the Senate Republicans drew the new district lines, people in the north country would have increased sway over state affairs.
It's all because of population. The Senate districts up here are underpopulated, almost unconstitutionally so. They're flirting with the 5 percent threshold. The state takes the number of Senate districts, 63, divides it by the population, about 19.4 million, and comes up with an average size that a Senate district should be. But a Senate district can go 5 percent above or 5 percent below that mean.
The proposed Senate districts up here go just about 5 percent below that mean — 4.61 percent below for Sen. Joe Griffo's District 47, and 4.71 percent below for Sen. Patty Ritchie's 48th district.
And many districts downstate and in New York City — Democratic strongholds — go above that mean.
That gives 292,870 residents of the 48th District the same voting power as 319,000 residents of a district in New York City.
Sure, on the scale of one district, that might not seem too bad. It all sounds like a little bit of theory. You're probably wondering why this actually has a daily effect on state government.
It does. In their totality — and Capital Tonight has some good data on this — the population deviations become a regional problem, because ALL the upstate districts are well below average and ALL the New York City districts are well below average. If the districts were more even, there would be fewer Senate districts in upstate Republican strongholds and more Senate districts in New York City, where Democrats would get elected.
As we saw a year ago, one seat can make all the difference in the state Senate. And whoever holds the edge in the Senate controls what can and cannot come up for a vote in the chamber.
So if you're a north country resident with parochial interests in mind, this is fantastic — especially if you're a Republican. But if you have more of a statewide purview on what's right and wrong, this extra benefit ought to come with great guilt.
This is, by the way, a separate issue from the fact that St. Lawrence County would have seven legislators representing parts of it. That would actually diminish the county's power. Think of it this way: Would you rather have one state member of the Assembly who is accountable to all 116,000 residents, or four members of the Assembly who could, without as big of an electoral impact, blow off the county altogether?
A rule that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed would have eliminated the ability to gerrymander via major population swings. It would have made districts fall within 1 percent of the population deviation. Our districts would have to have grown substantially, and Democratic districts in New York City would have had to shrink.
When good-government groups say that time is running out on an independent panel, but time is not running out on changing how the process is done, this is the type of simple fix that they're talking about.
And I'll note, too, that Assembly Democrats do the same thing. To their credit, they did not wield this tool this year as readily as Senate Republicans did.