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NEW YORK NEW YORK: Big Apple can learn from Barbados

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK: Big Apple can learn from Barbados

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You have probably heard it said a million times those things from “over and away” are far better than home-grown in Barbados.
Well, don’t believe it, at least not when it comes to redrawing electoral district lines or constituency boundaries.
That’s because Barbados is decades ahead of the state of New York, one of the most populous parts of the United States. For as New York goes through the process of “redistricting”, as it is called, in the wake of the 2010 census, it’s safe to say that the island, indeed most of the Caribbean, can teach New Yorkers a lesson about changing constituency boundaries to keep pace with population shifts but without disentrancing voters.
While the Barbados Electoral & Boundaries Commission has earned an exemplary reputation for doing its work outside of the glare of the media and without stirring people’s political passions, New York’s approach to changing district lines has triggered widespread controversy about a lack of attention to the needs of ethnic minorities.
Faced with a population decline that demands a reduction in Congressional seats from 29 to 27, New York, its Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state’s lawmakers had vowed to introduce the concept of an independent commission to redraw the district lines in time for this year’s presidential, congressional and state elections in November. In essence, the state wanted to follow in Barbados’ or Jamaica’s footsteps.
As a matter of fact, this year was supposed to be the time when New York would end the discredited practice of legislators deciding their own constituency boundaries.
What Governor Cuomo wanted was an independent commission whose work would ensure fairness and guarantee the rights of ethnic minorities, particularly Blacks and Hispanics to be able to elect people they believe would act in the people’s best interest.
That process was enshrined in the historic federal Voting Rights Act of the 1960s.
The failure of New York State to use sophisticated electronic technology and citizen participation to improve electoral mapmaking means the status quo remains, much to the anguish of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
Governor Cuomo dropped his commitment for the independent commission, contending it was much too late to implement it, rather opting for an agreement on constitutional change designed to improve the system after the 2020 census.
The failure has prompted the intervention of the courts. Looking at the proposed lines, they have been referred to as a naked “power grab” that would end up diluting the political influence of Caribbean immigrants and African Americans.
Clearly, then, New York should follow the example set by Barbados and establish an independent boundaries panel that would end the gerrymandering while adhering to established law, principles of fairness and common sense.