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NY redistricting commission departs tradition, will hold public hearings on drawing new lines

The New York state Capitol building in Albany behind a field of flowers
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
Redistricting meetings held at the state Capitol building in Albany will be available online to allow public participation.

The commission tasked with drawing new district lines for New York's congressional and state legislative seats will hold nine public hearings that they describe as a virtual listening tour to involve the public in how the districts should be structured.

Commission members said the public hearings, all to be held over Zoom, will allow communities to have a voice on how they want the new Senate, Assembly and congressional districts to be designed.

Commission Chair David Imamura said he wants the public to speak up about potential “communities of interest,” like church groups or places of employment, that should not be split up into different legislative or congressional districts.

“It is absolutely imperative that members of the public make their voices heard,” Imamura said. “We cannot draw lines that respect your communities if we do not know what your communities are.”

The call for public input is a departure from previous redistricting commissions, which have operated largely in secret and have been accused of gerrymandering districts to benefit the political party in power.

The commission will be eliminating one congressional seat. New York fell just 89 people short of keeping all of its current districts in the 2020 census count.

Each of the first eight hearings will focus on one region of the state, beginning on July 20 for Long Island residents and ending with the Buffalo-Rochester region on Aug. 12. One additional hearing for statewide communities of interest will be held at a later date.

The commission will release preliminary district lines in September and the legislature will vote on them in early 2022.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.