By: Christopher Hennessy
Often, the conversation around redistricting focuses on the national or state levels; which party has control state legislatures around the census has an important effect on the next decade of political discourse and control in that state. However, what gets lost in that national focused conversation is what happens at a local level. Local redistricting can also have a large impact on politics. I interviewed William & Mary Law school alumni Caitlin Anderson to talk a little bit about her experience with redistricting in Albany County.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I graduated from W&M in 2018. I was an election law fellow, and now work at Bond, Schoeneck and King, PLLC in Albany, New York focusing on government relations.
What first sparked your interest in election law?
As a long-time student of American history, I am acutely aware of the long-time struggle behind achieving the right to vote for all. Our republic was founded on a slim foundation of voters. Our election laws developed reflecting that history, and continue to do so today.
How did you first get involved with local redistricting practices?
As a first-year associate, I took on pro bono work with the League of Women Voters of Albany County. Since the 1990s, the Albany County Legislature has been successfully sued in federal court three times for its redistricting practices. I worked with the League to help Albany County develop a more independent system of redistricting.
In your experience, what is the biggest challenge facing reform in this area?
The fear of losing political power. Fair redistricting means creating districts where the voters choose the legislators, not the opposite way around. Unfortunately, the fear of losing one’s seat (or one’s political party’s power) dominates conversations around redistricting.
What is your main takeaway from the experience?
It’s much easier to become involved than you may think. It doesn’t matter if you’re in college, law school, or just starting your career. People need what skills you have to offer.
Ultimately, the Albany County legislature did pass a resolution to create an independent commission for redistricting after the 2020 census. Titled “Local Law No. O for 2018,” the law creates a commission made up of nine members to draw the lines. The members must be a county resident and registered, New York State voters. However, they cannot have been publicly elected officials, state officer, state employee, legislative employee, a registered lobbyist, or a political party chairman within the past four years. In addition, the commission will work with a subcommittee specifically created to protect the rights and interests of minorities living in majority minority districts. The Majority Leader of the county legislature appoints three members, the Minority Leader also appoints three members. Each person can only appoint two members from the same party. The committee selects the remaining three members. Whether the law will work to correct the redistricting issues Albany County experienced in the past three census cycles remains to be seen; but, this is an effort to try to correct the issue. Voters will vote on the resolution this November.
What we should take away from this whole process is echoing what Caitlin said at the end of the interview. It is easier to get involved than you may think. Issues surrounding redistricting seem massive and untenable, but the solution may lie much closer to home than you first thought.