NY’s Independent Redistricting Commission clinches $4M budget

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Map of New York (Gordon Johnson / Pixabay)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — After over a year, New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) says it has secured $4 million for operating expenses in the state budget. The IRC talked about pursuing legal options after it said Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders ignored pleas for funding in January.

Cuomo has yet to sign the budget. Without that signature, the IRC says it still has no idea when the money will become available. With no approved budget themselves, no website, and no staff, the IRC has just five months to complete the redistricting process and meet the September 15 deadline.

Redistricting happens every 10 years, following the U.S. Census, and is important for determining fair and equal representation in the state legislature and Congress. Congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn during the redistricting process which gives legitimacy to the democratic idea of One-Person One-Vote. Redistricting is an essential process in supporting the bedrock of democracy.

What is redistricing and why does it matter to me?

Ten IRC commissioners oversee IRC activities. Eight are appointed by the temporary president of the state senate, speaker of the assembly, minority leader of the state, and minority leader of the assembly. Those eight then appoint two more commissioners, according to the NY Senate website. The ten members are:

  1. Eugene Benger
  2. Ross Brady
  3. Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina
  4. John Flateau
  5. Elaine Frazier
  6. David Imamura
  7. Jack Martins
  8. Charles Nesbitt
  9. Willis Stephens, Jr.
  10. George Winner

Because of the long delay in finding out from the state exactly how much money the IRC could count on for its budget, many members expressed hesitancy in moving forward with posting job positions and setting dates for public hearings until the money is available to be withdrawn.

Commissioners did agree they had to vote on a budget as soon as possible and plan to do so at its next meeting on April 29. “I know we have a draft—or a couple draft budgets—out there. Why don’t we see if we can’t put a budget together and have it presented at our next meeting so we can actually adopt a structure for moving forward?” said Commissioner Jack Martins.

Martins voiced frustrations over the absence of funding at an IRC meeting in late January. He also voiced frustration over being at a loss for who or what government agency to contact to push the state into securing a specific dollar amount allocated to the IRC.

Funding hasn’t been the only thing holding up the commission. The coronavirus pandemic has also slowed the processing of 2020 U.S. Census data. The U.S. Census Bureau said apportionment data would be completed by April 30, based on its current schedule in a statement on January 28.

Nonetheless, the Bureau’s acting director Rob Jarmin told the Associated Press in late March that the data used by states for redistricting wouldn’t be available until August at the earliest. This would further put the squeeze on the Commission to meet the September deadline.

Further delays from the Census Bureau could have an impact, said Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York. If the IRC cannot complete its work by September, she said it would be up to the state Legislature to act. But, it could also affect potential political candidates running for seats in the Legislature in 2022.

“The Legislature can do a limited statute to change the timeline. Either way, it’s going to be a problem if the Legislature rejects the first set of maps since the petitioning process for those seats starts in February but there is a way to move the timeline out,” Wilson said.

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