Partisan redistricting worked

By CHUCK CORNELL

The sweeping Republican victory in obtaining 13 of 19 Legislature seats has been depicted as a “tsunami” based on the fact that voters were “paying attention.”

However, this victory could have been predicted, give or take a seat or two, given the fact that the Legislature lines that were adopted were not those developed by an independent, non-partisan commission, but instead largely by a partisan Albany-based consultant hired by the Republican caucus to draw the lines. Minda Rae Amiran of the League of Women Voters and member of the Independent Redistricting Commission cautioned legislators right before the partisan plan was ultimately adopted to be careful about the “message you are sending to the public both about your commitment to a transparent and non-partisan process and about your willingness to waste the time of serious and committed citizens.”

The Republican legislators, plus legislators Keith Ahlstrom and Shaun Heenan voted against the independent, non-partisan plan. Then a partisan plan was adopted.

Both Legislators Heenan and Ahlstrom did not draw Republican opponents in this year’s election. Much like the “bipartisan gerrymandering” in Albany has helped to keep the New York State Senate with a Republican Majority and the New York State Assembly with a Democratic Majority, the people of Chautauqua County have partisan gerrymandered legislature districts that limits choices and competition for legislature seats. So while other valid conclusions can be drawn about the 2013 election, including the dramatically low voter turnout, it’s clear that the legislature lines that were deliberately drawn to favor one political party worked as they were designed.

Political scientist Gerald Benjamin once concluded that Albany gerrymandering has resulted in “diminished competitiveness and accountability” and “cemented divided partisan control” and provides state legislators with “insulation from the public will.”

It’s possible for the same conclusion to be drawn in Chautauqua County. Voter participation and competitive legislature seats may decline even further until new lines are drawn that are “transparent and non-partisan” and put communities and civic participation above party politics.

Chuck Cornell is a Jamestown resident.