Calls for more public input on new NY political maps

May 6, 2022 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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Community activists and lawmakers traveled to a rural courthouse Friday in western New York to weigh in on the shape of the state’s political district maps, and to ask a judge for more opportunities for the public to be heard.

The state judge overseeing the redrawing of New York’s congressional and state Senate districts scheduled just one public hearing on the matter before the maps are due to be finalized May 20.

Anyone who wanted to speak publicly on the issue could either file something with the court in writing, or appear in person Friday in Judge Patrick McAllister’s courtroom in Bath, New York, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Rochester.

The court is working on a tight timeline to get the maps done after the state’s highest court ruled that previous versions drawn by the Democrat-controlled legislature were unconstitutional.

Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy, faces a May 16 deadline to release his first draft of the replacement maps.

“We urge you to have more hearings, particularly after the map is released,” Esmeralda Simmons, special pro bono counsel to the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, said at Friday’s hearing. “We want you to know that New Yorkers deserve to be heard, and they are gonna wanna be heard.”

Earlier this week, McAllister declined requests that he let people testify at the hearing remotely, saying that his court lacked the capability to allow large numbers of people to do so.

“Regrettably I am not able to provide a remote option that allows for everyone throughout the state to appear and comment,” the judge wrote in a May 3 letter to New York Civic Engagement Table Director Melody Lopez. “But, a person can appear and testify in person.”

The judge said the court will be reviewing records from hearings held by the state’s independent redistricting commission last fall.

That commission’s effort to redraw political district boundaries — something required every 10 years — collapsed because of partisan gridlock.

The Legislature then passed its own maps without any public input or hearings like the one held by the judge Friday.

Angel Vasquez, a Democrat running for state Senate in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, urged the court to consider some of the committee’s discarded proposals.

The court has ordered the state’s primary elections for state Senate and the U.S. House moved to Aug. 23, from their originally planned date on June 28, so that there will be enough time to redraw the maps. State officials have asked a federal judge to approve the shift.

On Wednesday, former Democratic candidate Gary Greenberg filed a lawsuit asking McAllister to toss and order new state Assembly maps and delay Assembly races until August 23 as well.

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