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Synthesis News


        Issue #1, February 2003

Synthesis helps work against "gerrymandering" in Ulster County

         The Synthesis group in January helped attain 7000 signatures to enact a referendum which will allow voters to
decide on the type of districting plan put into action for Ulster County, with options expressed on the November ballot.  Currently, the legislature is running on an old plan, which
is slightly modified from a plan that was, in the past, ruled unconstitutional by NY State Supreme Court Judge Bradley.
            The petitions were handed in by noon on Friday,
January 31.  Synthesis members gathered signatures by
talking to people in various Ulster County Townships,
such as New Paltz, Woodstock, and Kingston.  
   

     
For details and more information, see "Explanation of Gerrymandering" by Mer
 

Explanation of "Gerrymandering" and the Redistricting process in Ulster County's Legislature:

Every ten years legislators are required to do something called reapportionment, which is where they adjust the voting district boundary
 lines based off of a census.  Gerrymandering is where legislatures
 ignore or manipulate a census and adjust the voting district lines strategically to get elected.  In NYC the legislators have been known to strategically inflate a black communities population in order to get the
voting districts lines in their favor.  In Ulster County, the majority's
tendency has been to simply ignore the census and just reapportion
however they see fit.  For example, they'll take a region with a large conservative majority (such as Marlboro) and put in it a voting district
with a smaller democratic majority (such as New Paltz) and since both regions will pretty much vote across party lines, Marlboro overwhelms
New Paltz's democrats and elects a republican representative for
New Paltz, Marlboro, and for two other regions within the voting district. 
 This tactic is then paired with another and more devious plan then
the last.  The legislative majority (republicans in our case) will
perform a kind of sacrifice, where they clump as many of their
opponents voting population into as few voting districts as possible
in order to use up their opponents voting population.
So in the case of Ulster county, the republican party will put forth a reapportionment plan that puts together regions like Saugerties and Woodstock and minimize the number of democratic representatives
elected.  

 

 

 
    ..(continued)
         As a result, the Ulster county majority has a
24 to 9 republican majority even though the county is composed of a
third democrats, a third republicans and a third independents. This republican majority is unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unrepresentative.  And this is why the first reapportionment was deemed unconstitutional by judge Bradley and why the second reapportionment plan has been brought back to court.  To let the people of Ulster County bring their voice back into politics, members of synthesis petitioned over the winter break and into the first week of school calling for a permissive referendum that would allow citizens to vote on whether or not they think the redistricting is fair.  We collected over a thousand signatures and have gained the respect of the democratic representatives of the legislature.  Unfortunately the fight for democracy and a representative government isn't over.  Judge Bradley must still deem the second redistricting plan unconstitutional and the people of Ulster County must find an alternative,  non-partisan redistricting plan that will elect a representative legislative body.
In this pursuit, two major redistricting plans have been proposed.  Single member districts, which would break up the large gerrymandered districts we have now, would replace them with smaller districts that would be based around town centers.  This redistricting plan could potentially be gerrymandered as well, and so an impartial third party would have to do the redistricting.  Another and more foolproof system is something called "proportional representation" or "the run off voting" system.  In this system the representatives are elected by the number of people that vote for each party, generating an equal percentage between the number of republicans, democrats, and independent parties.  The advantages of this system include: One, the third parties get representation.  Since this isn't a winner take all system, a party simply needs to make up a significant percentage of the population to get a representative (5% per representative); Two, gerrymandering is minimized.  All of the voters are taken into account in every voting district, and so there is never a losing party where 49% of a voting district is left unrepresented.  Instead gerrymandering would be minimized to trying to keep third parties below 5%.  The disadvantages include: One, a complicated ballot where you have the opportunity to vote for a number of candidates within each party; Two, the possibility of weird and controversial representatives being elected; Three, since elections would still be held on a large scale, campaigns could still get quite expensive.  In contrast, the single member districts would insure small elections with inexpensive campaigns and representatives that were accountable to a smaller population.  And so, it is now up to our county to decide on what kind of voting system we will support.  Choose carefully, because we will be stuck with this system for the next ten years.  For more information about Percentage Representation go to www.fairvote.org and for more information about single member districts, contact your local democratic legislator or ask Julia Walsh  or Mer McLaughlin.


-Mer (AKA Matthew McLaughlin)
 


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