End gerrymandering in Dutchess County
Every 10 years, the majority party in the Dutchess County Legislature draws district lines to favor their members and disadvantage the opposing party in an attempt to entrench their power and make themselves immune to the will of the voters.
On May 13, 2019, Democratic members of the Dutchess County Legislature put forward a local law to change how the county legislative districts are drawn after each census. Instead of having the politicians in power draw their own districts for maximum political advantage, an Independent Redistricting Commission would be formed with no politicians, no officers of any political party and no county employees. They would take public input thru hearings, create a map and approve a final plan with five votes out of seven. The plan would have the force of law. Once the law is passed, it will go to a public vote this November.
We need your help! Please sign the petition to support passing the law and ask the legislature to pass it as soon as possible so the voters can approve it this November in time for the next census!
- Law changes the county charter, will be considered during June meetings
- After passage, voters will vote up or down on the change this November
- Democrats passed independent redistricting without a referendum in 2009 and Republicans repealed it in 2010/2011 so they could draw their own districts
- Creates a seven member commission to redraw legislative district lines after census
- Two members picked by Democrats, two by Republicans and those four pick the last 3
- No elected or party officials or county employees may serve on the commission
- No political criteria may be considered in drawing the map
- Five of the seven members must approve the plan for it to go into effect
FULL TEXT OF THE LAW:
A LOCAL LAW AMENDING ARTICLE II (LEGISLATIVE BRANCH) OF THE DUTCHESS COUNTY CHARTER BY CHANGING THE METHOD OF REAPPORTIONMENT TO AN INDEPENDENT COMMISSION
BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNTY LEGISLATURE OF THE COUNTY OF DUTCHESS, STATE OF NEW YORK AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION 1. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND PURPOSE
Nothing is more central to a functioning democracy than a legislature representing the will of the people. At every level of government throughout New York State and the United States and in most democratic countries in the world, a representative legislature is fundamental to the government structure as at least a co-equal branch of government, and in some nations is the dominant branch of government upon which the other branches rest. In the constitutions upon which the Dutchess County government is founded, including the United States and New York Constitutions, and the Dutchess County Charter, the legislature is provided for before the other branches of government.
Election of representatives is the most basic and important mechanism by which the legislature is constituted to represent the will of the people.
This mechanism, the underpinnings of representative democracy, may be compromised by tactical manipulation of the legislative districts. In recent history, there have been a number of instances in the United States where legislators have deliberately set up legislative districts to skew the legislative representation of a political party or to facilitate the successful retention of seats by incumbent legislators. History has shown that where legislatures have the authority to determine their own districts, there is a high incidence of tactical districting to achieve goals that do not promote effective representation of the electorate.
The Dutchess County Legislature finds that such gerrymandering constitutes a threat to the quality and vibrancy of democracy by creating a legislature that is not representative of the will of the people and by undermining confidence in the legislature.
Therefore the Dutchess County Legislature finds that it is in the best interest of Dutchess County and its residents to assign the designation of legislative districts upon the completion of the decennial census to an independently constituted commission whose membership is as nonpartisan as practicable and whose consideration of new districts shall not include partisan voting results. The Legislature further finds that it is in the best interest of Dutchess County and its residents to designate nonpartisan standards by which any such decennial redistricting may be assessed. The Legislature further finds that given the importance of the procedure for redistricting to the function of the Dutchess County government and the need for popular confidence in such procedures and standards, it is in the public interest to submit any such redistricting procedure and standards to a vote of the electorate.
SECTION 2. Section 2.01 of the Charter of the County of Dutchess shall be amended to read as follows:
Section 2.01: County Legislature: Membership; Election; Terms; Reapportionment; Term Limits.
- There shall be a County Legislature composed of Legislators elected from single member districts prescribed in such local laws of reapportionment as may from time to time be applicable. Each Legislator shall be deemed a County Officer and shall be elected at a general odd-numbered year election for a term of two years. At the time of
his/hertheir nomination and election, and throughout his/hertheir term of office, each Legislator shall be and remain an elector of the district from which he/she isthey are elected. Hereafter, the County Legislature, by a Local Law subject to permissive referendum, shall reapportion its membership within two years after the publication of each federal decennial census in a manner consistent with constitutionally and legally accepted principles of legislative representation, but in no event shall the number of Legislators exceed twenty-five (25).No person shall be elected for a full two-year term as a member of the County Legislature more than six times. The first year for any County Legislator for the purpose of calculating terms as contained in this section shall commence on or after January 1, 2020.
- Hereafter the county legislative districts shall be reapportioned after publication of each federal decennial census in the following manner:
- An Independent Redistricting Commission shall be appointed to develop a reapportionment plan defining legislative district boundaries. The Commission shall have no power to alter the number of legislative districts, which shall be twenty-five. The Commission’s power is limited to the fixing of boundary lines delineating each of the twenty-five legislative districts.
- The Commission shall be formed no later than two months after publication of the federal decennial census. This Commission shall consist of seven members who are County residents, are eligible to register to vote and are not elected officials, officers of any county political party, public officers or employees of the County. Its members shall be selected as follows: two members by the leader of the legislature’s majority caucus; two members by the leader of the minority caucus; and three members selected jointly by those four by majority vote. Commission members shall serve without compensation and at the pleasure of their respective appointing authorities. Any vacancy shall be filled in the same manner that the initial appointment of the vacated seat was made. No member of the Commission shall run for or accept appointment to the legislature within two years after conclusion of service on the Commission.
- In creating a reapportionment plan, the Commission shall consider the following factors in descending order of importance, in addition to constitutional and other legally accepted principles of representation:
- Population equity. Legislative districts shall be of equal population to the maximum extent practicable. No legislative district shall deviate by more than 3 percent from one twenty-fifth of the total population of Dutchess County, as determined by the most recent decennial census referred to hereinabove.
- Contiguity. Districts shall be contiguous, so that each point in a district may be reached from each other point in the district without leaving the district.
- Compactness. Each district shall be compact, with the narrowest practicable range of distances from its boundaries to the geographic center of the district. For purposes of this paragraph, the compactness of each district shall be measured by the ratio of the area of the district to the square of the district perimeter. For the County as a whole the compactness of the legislative districting plan shall be the sum of the above ratios of each individual district.
- Unity of Cities, Towns, Villages and Institutions. Where consistent with the other factors enumerated in this paragraph, district boundaries may be drawn to conform with municipal and institutional boundaries to the extent practicable.
- In drawing district boundaries neither the Commission nor any of its members shall under any circumstances consider any actual, expected or projected electoral results, voting patterns, polling data, enrollment data, or any other data relating to the expected partisan allocations of vote totals from any precinct, district, municipality or any geographic area within the County.
- Legislative staff shall provide technical assistance for the Commission sufficient to support its reasonable and necessary activities. The Commission shall keep records of its proceedings and shall report its progress from time to time to the County Legislature, detailing its progress.
- After developing a draft reapportionment plan, the Commission shall hold one or more public hearings. It shall make the draft plan available to the public for inspection and comment not less than ten days before the first public hearing. Within nine months of the Commission’s formation, the Commission shall file with the Clerk of the Dutchess County Legislature a final reapportionment plan which has been approved by a vote of at least five members of the Commission. The Commission’s plan shall have the force and effect of law and the legislative districts defined therein shall be effective commencing with the next general election.
- The Commission shall also submit the final reapportionment plan to the Dutchess County Board of Elections, which shall take such steps as may be necessary and appropriate to implement the adopted plan.
- Upon filing of the first such final reapportionment plan, the current Chapter 24-4 of the county administrative code defining legislative districts shall be deemed repealed.
- The Commission shall expire, and the terms of its members terminate, 30 days after submittal of the final reapportionment plan. The Commission shall deposit all the records of its proceedings with the Clerk of the Legislature.
- If the Commission fails to submit a final reapportionment plan as specified in paragraph (vii), the Legislature may dissolve the Commission and appoint a new Commission. The new Commission shall not include any members who served on a previous Commission for the same federal decennial census.
SECTION 3. SEVERABILITY
If any provision, clause, sentence, paragraph, section or subdivision of this local law, or the application thereof to any person, entity, municipality or corporation, is held to be void, invalid, unenforceable or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction, such order or judgment shall not impair the validity, effectiveness or enforceability of the remainder of this local law, and such judgment or order shall be confined in its operation to the provision, clause, sentence, paragraph, section or subdivision of this local law, or in its application to such person, entity, municipality or corporation directly involved in the controversy in which such judgment or order has been rendered.
SECTION 4. REFERENDUM
This amendment to the county charter shall be put before the electors of the County of Dutchess for approval or disapproval at the general election to be held on November 5, 2019, pursuant to the procedure specified in Municipal Home Rule section 34(4).
SECTION 5. EFFECTIVE DATE
This local law shall become effective upon its filing with the Secretary of State, subject to approval of the electorate pursuant to section 4 above.