GOP and Dems draw hard lines as NY’s redistricting battle begins
Voting districts anywhere in the state, urban or rural, can have a huge impact on elections when their voting history is predictable — and dependable. That’s why district lines can look like a wet noodle blown in a high wind.
The once-in-a-decade Census final data dump was revealed on Aug. 12, and now lawmakers across the nation are preparing to redraw districts for Congressional and State legislatures.
With 2022 midterm elections approaching, the stakes are high, with Democrats holding a slim majority in Congress — just 50.7 percent. And with New York set to lose a House seat (by falling a mere 89 people short in the Census count), the state’s redistricting has national implications.
But who draws those lines? Why don’t they follow a more rational geographic pattern, both for clarity of government service and statistical tracking?
In theory, redistricting ensures that constituents get equal representation from politicians to account for population changes over the past decade.
In practice, the system has both parties battling to draw lines that favor their candidates — otherwise known as gerrymandering. That’s why plenty of district lines are bizarrely shaped, often resembling a child’s pencil drawing rather than a sensible map.
As Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat, has told the local press, his district, which stretches from Bay Ridge to Marine Park, was carved out to benefit his predecessor, former Republican State Sen. Marty Golden. The result is a puzzle-piece-shaped district that contains tiny slivers of some neighborhoods, and wide swaths of others that leaned right.
“It’s very hard for me to be in Bay Ridge, Gravesend and Gerritsen Beach all within the span of an hour, it’s impossible to drive that. It’s very hard to adequately be present in each one of those neighborhoods the way that a representative should be,” Gounardes said.
We also saw this play out statewide, where critics accused the GOP of having lines drawn being designed to keep Republicans in charge in the State Senate. (Counterintuitively, this gave former Gov. Andrew Cuomo more power, by shifting power towards Cuomo with a divided Assembly and State Senate, versus both of them voting in lockstep against him, as we saw in his recent downfall.)
A New NY ‘Bipartisan’’ System — and Competing Redistricting Maps
New York City and State are in the midst of an unprecedented redistricting effort. After a 2014 voter change to the State Constitution, a new commission, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission replaced the State Legislative Task Force — which was highly criticized for being politically bound to the leaders of the Assembly and Senate.
In an apparent effort to avoid politicizing the redistricting process, members of the new commission cannot, within the last three years, have held office, been a state employee, a lobbyist, nor a chair of a political party.
The new commission is appointed by Democratic and GOP leaders of the State Legislature, who get two appointees each (and then appoint two people registered with neither party), resulting in a 10-person commission.
Despite the efforts to depoliticize the process, on Wednesday, the committee released two wildly varying drafts, after failing to reach a bipartisan agreement. (At least 7 of the 10 commission members have to agree on the full set of proposed lines before sending the draft maps to the State Legislature.)
“We were not able to come to a consensus on a single map,” said the committee’s Republican co-chair and former State Sen. Jack Martins. “I see our responsibility as a commission as putting aside partisan differences. We tried to, and unfortunately, it was for naught.”
The draft maps are ostensibly just drafts, since the committee will hold 14 hearings to garner input from the public. Then, the new lines will go to state lawmakers for approval early next year.
The legislature still maintains ultimate control
One must bear in mind that the Assembly and Senate can also reject the work of the Independent Redistricting Commission and draw districts on their own.
As The New York Times reported, the State Senate and Assembly maintain Democratic supermajorities and are reportedly plotting to draw lines that could help eliminate up to five GOP-held seats in NY.
Once the Legislature agrees on the boundaries, it’s then up to the governor to either accept them or veto the maps. Any veto would essentially be symbolic – since a two-thirds majority vote can override the governor’s rejection.
And Gov. Kathy Hochul said she has no problem with using the state’s Democratic control to help her party out.
What are the implications?
According to the Times, Democrats could benefit from 2022’s midterm elections with as many as 23 of New York’s 26 House seats.
Map-drawers could also easily make it next to impossible for U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) — the only NYC Republican in Congress — to win re-election by including heavily left-leaning sections of Brooklyn to her GOP-oriented district.
And in Long Island, Republicans now hold two out of four seats. Gerrymandering the district lines would make it easier for Democrats to grab three of them.
Upstate, there are also potential power grabs. For instance, the city of Rochester is currently divided into three State Senate districts (with two Dems and one Republican). Both the GOP and Democratic sides of the Independent Redistricting Commission proposed condensing it into one district. As you can assume, the new maps are self-serving, reports City and State NY.
Whether the Independent Redistricting Commission’s map actually gets approved is quite tenuous. Either way, the seemingly dull drum map-drawing could result in a seismic shift of power across the state — and nation.