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Fair system requires protection from one-party rule

After the next census in 2010, the State Legislature will present a redistricting plan that will determine where members of the Assembly, Senate and Congress will run for re-election.

Under the current system, the Democratic-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate will make sure that the new lines will be drawn to keep the control of their respective houses intact. Individual members will lobby intensely to cut the best possible district for themselves. The process also will include drawing new lines for congressional districts. The net result is "gerrymandering" and the assurance that each party will extract as much political power as possible.

I believe that the purest and perhaps fairest way to draw new lines is to implement an objective, unbiased computer-driven plan that allows for an equal number of residents in each district, without regard for party registration.

To achieve this, my legislation would appoint a panel of nine members to oversee the computer-generated district lines. The members would consist of the four commissioners of the State Board of Elections, and one appointment each by the governor, the temporary president of the Senate, the speaker of the Assembly and the minority leader of each house of the Legislature.

Once the computer-generated lines were produced, the panel would review them to ensure that the lines were fair and randomly drawn.

The map would then be sent to the Legislature for approval.

However, objective redistricting will also mean that the Democratic Party, which has an overwhelming enrollment advantage in our state, will control the Assembly, the Senate and, to a large extent, New York's congressional districts.

If New York were to adopt an impartial, computer-driven redistricting plan, without any "tinkering" by interested parties, then the citizens of this state must have significant protection against the predictable outcome of one party controlling both houses of the Legislature, congressional districts and a predictable long-term occupation of the governor's office. It should also be noted that the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, will appoint judges, agency heads and other significant positions that will determine everyday life for the citizens of New York.

Therefore, the only way the citizenry could be protected from the loss of the "two-party system" would be to incorporate initiative and referendum into any impartial redistricting effort. This would allow citizens, rather than legislators from one dominant party, to sponsor and vote on issues that the Legislature might otherwise block.
Using an impartial system might seem like a simple reform, but the results would be dramatic. New York's citizens and all who call for reform of our system of government must understand the potential impact of the predictable loss of the two-party system in our state.

James S. Alesi is New York State senator representing the 55th District in Monroe County.

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