N.Y.: Redistricting update

January 19, 2022

Last week, the New York state Legislature rejected the first round of proposed redistricting maps from the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. Most members of the state Assembly voted the bills down, while the state Senate voted them down unanimously. This is the first time since 1995 that a bill has failed on the state Assembly floor. This is because the Democrats—who have controlled the chamber since the 1970s— only bring bills they know will pass to the floor.

What happens with redistricting now?

Now that the state Legislature has rejected the first round of maps, the Independent Redistricting Commission has up until Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, to return a revised set of maps for the state Legislature to consider.  Then, the maps will go up for a vote in the state Assembly and the state Senate. If they are rejected for a second time, the state Legislature will get to draw the maps.

You might wonder why the state Legislature has an opportunity to draw the maps—what many claim is a political process—when the commission was created to prevent political maps from being drawn. This was the process that New York voters created when they approved a constitutional amendment to revise the redistricting process in 2014.

However, just because the state Legislature could be back in the driver’s seat regarding these maps, they cannot ignore various state and federal constitutional and statutory requirements for district lines, which include the following:

  • districts can’t result in the prohibited denial or abridgment of racial or language minority voting rights;
  • districts must contain as nearly as may be an equal number of inhabitants—to the extent practicable;
  • districts must consist of contiguous territory and shall be as compact in form as possible;
  • districts cannot be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents; and
  • districts must consider the maintenance of existing districts, pre-existing political subdivisions, including counties, cities, towns and communities of interest.

If individuals or organizations believe the maps are too political in nature, are gerrymandered, or they violate any one or more of the requirements above, the maps could be challenged in state and/or federal court. This would lead to even more delay.

Why this process is important and delays are concerning

The redistricting process is required to take place every 10 years, based on data from the U.S. Census and new maps must be in place by the next even-numbered year’s elections—so, maps are due this year, since 2022 is the next even-numbered year election in New York.

This process helps ensure that districts are of similar size in terms of population, so that we can preserve the principle of “one person, one vote.” Having districts of similar population ensure that one vote is not stronger in one district than another—something that would happen if a district had significantly fewer people.

The current delays are concerning to candidates and state legislators running for office because changes in population could lead to some members of the state Legislature being redistricted into the district of a neighboring, sitting legislator. This would create a situation in which, technically, there could be two incumbents running for the same seat—often in a primary—if both members are from the same political party. The longer this process takes, the closer we get to the primary elections—and to the deadline for circulating petitions to get names on the ballot, a process through which candidates must go to run for office.

Get involved

If you want to get involved with PIANY’s legislative and advocacy work, there are many ways to engage with the association:

Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez, Ph.D.
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Katherine “Kat” Slye-Hernandez received her Ph.D. in political science from the State University of Albany, Albany, N.Y., in May 2020. She also has her Master of Arts from SUNY Albany and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.

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