Bloomberg Pushes Party-Free Redistricting (Updated)

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Count independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as part of the movement to re-draw legislative districts in the state along non-partisan lines.

Bloomberg, who is launching the non-partisan “No Labels” Committee today, said in a statement the current system of having political parties control how federal and state legislative lines are drawn is unfair and limits voter choice.

“The current system for drawing districts protects incumbents, promotes ideological extremism, and reduces voter choice,” Bloomberg said. “Gerrymandering is part of the reason why compromise and bi-partisanship are so rare these days. Voters in California and Florida overwhelmingly passed redistricting reforms in recent elections, and there’s no reason why, working with Ed Koch and our state legislative leaders, we can’t do the same here. It would be one of the best things to happen to Albany since the building of the Erie Canal.”

Bloomberg joins former New York Mayor Ed Koch, whose New York Uprising political action committee has pushed for the redistricting reform as well. Senate Republicans, who will likely control the upper house of the Legislature next year, have signed the pledge (see update below).

Legislative districts are redraw every 10 years based on the most recent census data. New York will draw the lines in 2012. The state is expected to lose several seats in Congress based on its population loss.

Bloomberg’s drive for a political world without parties is being seen by some as a precursor to a 2012 presidential run, which he has strenuously denied is the case.

Here’s the full statement from Bloomberg:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today released a report showing that nonpartisan reforms to the redistricting process can increase the competitiveness of legislative elections at the state and federal level. In the most recent elections, the report found that across the country, 49 percent of candidates elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and 57 percent of candidates elected to state legislatures won their races with margins of victory greater than 30 points, or faced no opposition at all. States with nonpartisan redistricting had races that were, on average, 14 percent closer for the state legislature and 24% closer for congress, and candidates in state legislative districts drawn through a nonpartisan process were 20 percent less likely to run unopposed. Mayor Bloomberg joined former Mayor Ed Koch in urging the New York State Legislature to create an independent commission to re-draw state legislative and congressional district lines in advance of the 2012 elections.

“The current system for drawing districts protects incumbents, promotes ideological extremism, and reduces voter choice,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Gerrymandering is part of the reason why compromise and bi-partisanship are so rare these days. Voters in California and Florida overwhelmingly passed redistricting reforms in recent elections, and there’s no reason why, working with Ed Koch and our state legislative leaders, we can’t do the same here. It would be one of the best things to happen to Albany since the building of the Erie Canal.”

The report compared state and federal legislative elections in 35 states that give redistricting authority to the legislature to the 13 states where there is some form of a nonpartisan process (only 7 states have non-partisan congressional redistricting). The 13 states with a nonpartisan process have, on average, 20 percent fewer uncontested state legislative races. Margins of victory were 14 percent lower (24 points vs. 28 points) in state legislative races and 24 percent lower (21 points vs. 28 points) in congressional races. The experience of the two states (Arkansas and Ohio) that give the governor and other state-wide elected officials control over the redistricting process largely mirrored that of the 35 states in which partisan redistricting occurs through the legislature.

The report also found that the three states with a “Top Two” election system or a nonpartisan legislature (Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska) also produced substantially more competitive elections, and large cities with nonpartisan elections were found to have city council races that were 24 percent closer than their partisan counterparts. Mayor Bloomberg supported recent, successful efforts in California and Florida to remove or reduce partisan control from the redistricting process.

Koch has released a statement praising Bloomberg for his stance on the issue:

“The cause of nonpartisan redistricting today gained a nonpartisan champion in the form of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Mayor Bloomberg represents what Albany doesn’t. He has earned respect across the board for making New York City work for New Yorkers — and not by playing politics to protect Democrats, or Republicans, or incumbents. He is the third New York City mayor to declare support for impartial redistricting, including Rudy Giuliani and me. If our state’s political leaders still think that they can keep gerrymandering their own districts and those of their party, and no one will notice, they’re dead wrong. I look forward to working with Mayor Bloomberg on getting this important reform enacted into law.”

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