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NY Assembly, Senate, Reject Commission Redistricting Maps – Return Them to Commission in a Process the Legislature Will Soon Take Over

On January 10th, 2022, the New York State Assembly and Senate voted down proposed Congressional, Assembly, and Senate district maps sent to them by the Independent Districting Commission following their deadlocked meeting on January 3rd, 2022. The Commission was unable to forge a consensus on any district maps and sent competing Democratic and Republican proposals, none of which received the legal thresholds for adoption by the Commission as a whole, to the Legislature. Each House had four maps developed into separate pieces of legislation, two for each House for Congress, and two for each House for the Assembly and Senate, and voted them down one by one. In the New York State Assembly, both parties overwhelmingly rejected each proposal in a short session lasting just over one hour.

Under the State’s redistricting law, the Commission has fifteen days (by Jan.25th) to draw up new maps and resend them to the Legislature. If those maps are rejected, the Legislature is authorized by law to write the new district lines, which can only be adopted by two-thirds votes of both Houses of the Legislature, and then signed into law (or vetoed) by the Governor. The Democratic Party has two-thirds of both Houses of the Legislature and will surely adopt their preferred lines. Despite their obvious political power, the lines the Democrats draw must still comply with certain legal criteria, including requirements the districts must be compact and contiguous to the extent practical, must not favor disfavor incumbents, and must protect minority voting rights.

The Legislature will take over in a few weeks, and must decide if there will be a public process, like producing draft maps and holding public hearings, before adoption. Party primaries for nominations for public office take place in June, meaning any process for adopting the lines must meet tight deadlines. Following passage of the lines, local Boards of Elections across the State must produce and publish district maps with new election districts and produce new books of the enrolled voters for every election district. Normally it has taken two weeks from district line adoption for the Boards of Elections to complete that process. Petitioning to get on the ballot would start after that.

Completing the public maps and starting petitioning could need until April 1st to begin, and there may be a shortened petitioning process with lower signature thresholds depending on the time frames. Litigation against the lines is a certainty; in the past several redistrictings, the courts have taken over the process.

The drawing of New York’s Congressional lines has major national political implications since the Democratic party’s control of the House of Representatives is at stake. I wrote about this in May 2021 . The Democrats could eliminate anywhere from 3 to 5 Republican Congressional seats, but the more aggressive the gerrymandering, the greater the danger the courts might throw out those lines.

There are certain population shift realities internal to the State. The population grew 800,000 in the decade, from 19.4 million to 20.2 million, but literally all the growth occurred downstate and 3/4 of the growth occurred in the City of New York. New York must lose a Congressional seat and the loss will be in Upstate New York. The Republican Party controlled the State Senate district lines for decades, and distorted the populations of each district to make the Senate districts outside New York City have fewer persons than the ones inside the City. But the population shifts make it inevitable that Upstate New York will lose two State Senate seats to downstate, even if the districts were restored to equal populations.

My main caution to the Democrats: Don’t get greedy. Protect minority voting rights, set equal populations, and be careful not to give easy excuses for the Courts to take over. Incumbent Democrats with overwhelming re-election advantages should help the process by sacrificing a few of their voters to the party’s goal of holding the House of Representatives.

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