Will Democrats in the state Legislature draw New York's congressional district lines?
The clock is ticking for the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to come up with a set of new proposed maps for congressional and state Senate and Assembly districts after it failed to reach agreement earlier this month.
The gridlock means state legislators are one step closer to drawing the maps themselves.
The 10-member commission was supposed to agree on one set of maps by around New Year’s, but it failed to do so. The commission instead offered two different maps, one backed by Democrats on the panel, the other backed by Republicans.
On the first full day of the Legislature’s 2022 session, the Senate and the Assembly, dominated by Democrats, rejected both sets of maps.
The independent commission now has a 15-day period to come up with a new set of maps that they can all agree upon. So far, no new commission meetings have been scheduled. If they remain deadlocked, which appears likely, then the Legislature, dominated by Democrats in both houses, will do the job for them.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she still wants to give the commission a chance to get it right. Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Albany Times Union, Stewart-Cousins said if it is left up to the Legislature, though, Democrats intend to do it in fairly.
“We could draw maps that make sense, that are contiguous, that are rational and reasonable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “If we had to do that.”
The Senate leader said she herself has been a victim of gerrymandering. The Westchester-based district she has represented since 2007 had a simple rectangular shape when Republicans, who led the Senate for decades, previously held the seat. The GOP also were in charge of drawing the Senate lines every 10 years.
During the last redistricting process in 2012, when a combination of Republicans and independent Democrats ran the Senate, the contours of her district were greatly altered.
“My beautiful rectangular district is now the smiling face of an old man with a scraggly beard,” she said with a laugh.
The district now bisects several municipalities, including the cities of Yonkers and White Plains.
Senate GOP Minority Leader Rob Ortt is distrustful of the Democrats’ promises to be impartial. Republicans potentially have the most to lose if Democrats draw the lines to favor their party’s elected officials.
Ortt said he’d like to think Democrats will do the right thing when the maps are configured. But he said he’s “not holding his breath."
He said the Democrats aren’t only in power in both houses of the Legislature, they hold supermajorities.
“I expect they will draw lines that will benefit them,” Ortt said.
Ortt said if Democrats in the Legislature end up drawing the maps, it will be against the will of the public. The independent commission was created by a constitutional amendment approved by the state’s voters in 2014.
“I think the people of New York should take an interest in this, because you voted for a process that was supposed to be fundamentally different,” said Ortt. “You voted for a process that took away the map drawing from the Legislature, and it's going to end up, potentially, back there, and I think the voters should know that. And I think they would be disappointed and upset.”
Democrats won’t have the unlimited power as did the leaders of the Legislature in previous decades. The constitutional amendment that set up the independent redistricting commission also says the new districts can’t be drawn to favor incumbents or discourage competition from challengers of other parties, and the lines must be “compact and contiguous.”