Public Advocate Calls For Fair And Accurate Redistricting Representation In Testimony To Independent Commission

August 11th, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams put forward testimony today to call for the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw district boundaries that ensure fair, accurate representation in testimony submitted as part the ongoing redistricting process, particularly for communities that have been marginalized and underrepresented through the process in the past. New Yorkers can submit public comments to the Commission online, and the final public hearing of the Commission prior to maps being drafted will be held virtually on August 15. The Public Advocate noted in his testimony that delays in state funding had stunted the process.

"Given the time-sensitive nature of the redistricting process, it is unacceptable that State funding was not disbursed to the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) until very recently. To be clear, in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, the Governor should have taken steps to ensure that the IRC was able to have the necessary time and funds to hire staff, conduct public outreach, and perform its core functions. Because the Governor failed to do so, the IRC is now working on a compressed timeline that has presented understandable complications." said Public Advocate Williams in his testimony."The Commission must now take swift action to ensure all necessary work can occur before its first map proposals are due... it must make significant improvements to its operations."

He also urged the Commission to engage the public transparently and release its draft maps as soon as possible in order that future hearings can be informed and effective, saying "Public participation in events such as this hearing is the only way that the IRC will be able to identify "communities of interest"-groups with shared policy concerns that would benefit from being maintained together in a single district." He added that "New Yorkers should play their part in informing their neighbors about this redistricting, especially elected officials and community based organizations that have strong and lasting relationships with residents."

Read the full testimony from delivered by the Public Advocate below. Public comments can be submitted here.

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK STATE INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION AUGUST 11, 2021

My name is Jumaane D. Williams and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I appreciate the opportunity to deliver testimony.

Since the Reconstruction era, gerrymandering has minimized the impact of the votes of people of more color. Through "cracking", which intentionally spreads voters of more color out amongst multiple districts in order to dilute their political voice, and "packing", which intentionally concentrates voters of more color into one district in order to restrict their influence, the drawing of districts has been a harmful political tool. In addition, district lines that ignore local neighborhood boundaries can result in elected representation that is not reflective of community priorities or demographics. In order to avoid these damaging outcomes, it is important that New York State uses this once-in-a-decade opportunity to draw lines that ensure fair and accurate representation for all of its residents, especially those who have been most marginalized by this process in the past. 

Given the time-sensitive nature of the redistricting process, it is unacceptable that State funding was not disbursed to the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) until very recently. To be clear, in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, the Governor should have taken steps to ensure that the IRC was able to have the necessary time and funds to hire staff, conduct public outreach, and perform its core functions. Because the Governor failed to do so, the IRC is now working on a compressed timeline that has presented understandable complications. Nonetheless, the Commission must now take swift action to ensure all necessary work can occur before its first map proposals are due on September 15th. In order to do so, it must make significant improvements to its operations.

Public participation in events such as this hearing is the only way that the IRC will be able to identify "communities of interest"-groups with shared policy concerns that would benefit from being maintained together in a single district. As such, the IRC must make its public events more accessible. The fact that the hearing schedule was only announced on July 12th severely limited the amount of outreach that could be conducted around it and depressed turnout. The late launch of the IRC website on July 12th has also limited public engagement. Further, requiring members of the public to request translation or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation for the hearing via this low-traffic website, rather than providing these services proactively, has presented serious accessibility challenges for New Yorkers. Moving forward, the IRC should follow provisions in the State's Public Hearings and Meetings law to ensure that future events meet basic democratic standards, while maintaining the ability for the public to testify remotely. In addition, the IRC should release its draft maps as soon as possible so that future hearings can be as informed and effective as possible.

The IRC should also significantly increase the direct outreach into communities regarding its work. All communities must be made aware of all hearings, map-drawing workshops, and listening sessions. A targeted and robust marketing campaign must be a centerpiece of this outreach strategy. Specifically, at least 50% of marketing funds should be dedicated to ethnic and local community media outlets, in order to reach all corners of New York's diverse population. Further, in the aim of transparency and accountability, the IRC should provide detailed reporting on how funds are spent.

Lastly, all New Yorkers should play their part in informing their neighbors about this redistricting, especially elected officials and community based organizations that have strong and lasting relationships with residents. I encourage them to join our Office in amplifying the redistricting process and connecting residents to all associated events. The stakes are too high here for New Yorkers-especially those who have been traditionally excluded from the political process- to be left unengaged. Please reach out to us to see how we can partner together in this campaign. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Our Office

David N. Dinkins Municipal Building
1 Centre Street 15th Floor North
New York, NY 10007

Email: gethelp@advocate.nyc.gov

Hotline: (212) 669-7250

Fax: (888) 409-0287*

Text: (833) 933-1692

*Our fax number has changed temporarily while we upgrade our infrastructure
© 2024 Copyright: Office of the New York City Public Advocate
Privacy Policy