New York state senators have redrawn senate district lines, splitting Ulster County into four separate voting districts which may have a profound impact on the representation of Ulster County residents.
The lines must be changed every 10 years to reflect shifting population trends, according to The United States Census Bureau. Project Coordinator of New Paltz’s NYPIRG branch Eric Wood said the new redistricting represented “the worst gerrymandered lines ever drawn.”
The senate lines were drawn up by a commission consisting of Republican Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, Democratic Sen. Martin Dilan and Sen. Welquis R. Lopez, an independent member, chosen by the senators. Republicans currently hold a slight majority in the state senate, allowing them to choose which senators sit on the committee.
“What it basically means is that there will be four state senators representing Ulster County,” Josh Simons of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach said.
Simons said since Ulster County’s senate districts stretch over many other counties, people in the area will “have very little sway with their state senator.” He said this means each senator will represent a small percentage of each senate district in Ulster County.
“Basically it entirely disenfranchises the people of Ulster County,” he said.
N.Y. Central School District Board of Education Trustee Daniel Torres is worried the four senators will not be as accessible to the community.
“[When] we have things to advocate for, we now have four senators to go to,” he said. “It’s hard enough to meet with one representative, let alone four.”
The State Assembly’s lines, which were also redrawn from information collected from the 2010 census, were called by Wood “the second worst drawn lines in history.” The members of this commission were chosen by the democratic-controlled state assembly.
“It’s very difficult to ask a person in a position of power to willingly give up that power,” Simons said.
Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, created the government group New York Uprising to end gerrymandering and establish an independent redistricting committee. Ahead of fall elections, Koch convinced senate Republicans, including then-senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, to sign a pledge to establish an independent redistricting commission.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed the pledge.
However, according to Koch, state representatives reneged on their promise, including Skelos, who now leads the senate.
“The way I liken it to is, if there were a referendum on campus where they said we’re going to send this paper around and if the majority of people sign this is going to happen, and that thing that was going to happen was going to threaten my job,” Simons said. “When that paper comes across my desk how likely am I going to sign that piece of paper?”
Wood said he believes that Cuomo is going to veto the district lines.
“There is no way for him to avoid the veto without becoming a flip-flopper” since he also signed Koch’s pledge, according to Wood.
If the lines are vetoed, the issue would enter the courts. Simons said after this happens, there is a chance that the courts would simply deny the veto and kick the issue back to the legislature.
“Leaving aside the partisan sort of divides here, it really makes the county itself underrepresented,” he said. “Ulster County is split two times more than any other county in the entire state.”