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NY elections to proceed as judge weighs gerrymandering suit

March 3, 2022 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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New York’s 2022 federal and state elections will proceed as a state court weighs the constitutionality of congressional and state Senate district maps passed by the Democratic-led Legislature this year but accused by a group of voters as being biased, a state judge said Thursday.

The judge heard arguments in the town of Bath in Steuben County over a lawsuit launched by the voters in Republican-friendly communities who want to block the maps.

Steuben County Judge Patrick McAllister said he isn’t inclined to halt New York’s election process by striking down those maps because it’s “highly unlikely” new maps could be redrawn in coming weeks in time for June primaries and November general elections.

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“Even If I find the maps violated the Constitution and must be redrawn, it is highly unlikely that a new viable map could be drawn and be in place within a few weeks or even a couple of months,” he said. “Therefore, striking these maps would more likely than not leave New York state without any duly elected congressional delegates.”

He also suggested that he could call for new elections next year if he decides to toss the maps.

McAllister said the voters have an “extremely high” bar to prove that the Legislature drew the maps in violation of the Constitution.

Lawyers for the voters are pointing to analyses by nonpartisan groups nationwide, including the Brennan Center for Justice, that have cited New York’s new congressional maps as one of the nation’s most biased.

But lawyers for Democratic legislative leaders have argued that the Legislature’s maps are presumed to be in line with the Constitution, and that the maps reflect population loss in rural upstate communities.

Democrats have also argued the state Senate’s map undoes decades of gerrymandering by Senate Republicans.

The judge said both sides will bring in expert witnesses on March 14 to figure out “where the truth lies.”

“Until I have heard this testimony, I’m not in a position to know whether to strike down these maps or uphold these maps,” he said.

New York voters in 2014 amended the state’s constitution to outright ban drawing maps “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”

But with federal courts reluctant to step in on gerrymandering, it remains to be seen how state courts will handle complaints about partisan gerrymandering.

The maps will expand Democrats’ power for years in a state where the party already dominates: Democrats will have a majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have in 2023. Republicans, who now hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress, would only have an advantage in the remaining four districts.

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