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Drop the politics; State Legislature must find a way to create a fair redistricting map

It's time for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to speak up. The State Legislature is pursuing its mandate to redraw political district boundaries in its usual -- which is to say, corrupt -- fashion. When he was campaigning for office last year, Cuomo promised to veto any plan that was drawn with politics in mind. He needs to publicly renew that pledge.

Legislative leaders last year promised -- in writing -- to draw fair district lines through an independent redistricting process, signing a pledge circulated by former New York City Mayor Edward Koch. Once the November elections were safely passed, though, they quickly reneged.

This is an important issue in any democracy and, perhaps more important to lawmakers, New York State voters say it is important to them. A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 55 percent of voters think that neither Cuomo nor the Legislature will keep the promise to reform the redistricting process. Half of those polled want an independent panel to draw the lines and another 27 percent want an independent panel with some input from legislators.

The goals of redistricting are to draw districts with regular shapes and equal populations that keep communities together, regardless of the political affiliation of those within the district.

Traditionally in New York, though, members of the Senate drew their own lines and members of the Assembly drew theirs. The tacit agreement was that each would approve the other's plan.

It was, and remains, a corrupt and cynical ploy in which lawmakers shape districts to protect their incumbents. In so doing, they discourage qualified challengers from seeking to unseat the incumbents and free lawmakers to do as they are directed by their legislative leaders and their high-dollar donors. As critics note, lawmakers choose their voters before their voters ever get to choose them.

Redistricting is an important process. It follows every decade's census to reflect shifts in population and, thus, preserve the concept of one person, one vote. Some states manage to accomplish this goal honorably. New York should be able to do it, too.

This state has been in a reformist mode since Cuomo took office in January and has accomplished much, but honest redistricting may be too far a reach. Fair redistricting would undermine the very power structure that keeps lawmakers in office, parties in power and the special interest money flowing. Incumbents won't want to give that up easily simply to satisfy some concept of democracy in action.

That's why Cuomo's role is so important. If he can't put into place the independent commission he wanted, then he must make it plain once again to legislators and voters alike that he is serious about vetoing any plan that is designed with politics in mind.

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