New York state lawmakers will vote this week on a set of congressional maps that would boost the Democratic Party’s chances of winning additional seats, though Republicans are threatening to challenge the lines in court.
The state legislature’s redistricting task force – controlled entirely by Democrats for the first time in decades – unveiled its proposed maps on Sunday, clearing the way for a full vote as soon as Wednesday and putting the Democratic Party in an advantageous position to make gains. It is the first time in a century Democrats have had this much say over redistricting.
The proposal was required to reduce New York’s congressional delegation from 27 to 26, based on the latest Census numbers. And it was put forward after a more-independent panel reached impasse, paving the way for lawmakers to draw the lines themselves.
It would make major changes throughout the state, including the melding of a district along the Sound Shore that would include parts of Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester County.
If approved, 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts would have a Democratic enrollment advantage – a gain of three that could help the party potentially pick up seats as it clings to a narrow House majority nationally.
The new lines would go into effect for the June 28 primary and remain in effect through 2032. That assumes they survive a court challenge, which Jeff Wice – senior fellow for New York Law School’s Census and Redistricting Institute – expects they will, in large part because the state’s courts have historically given plenty of latitude to lawmakers when it comes to redistricting.
“I'd expect this plan to pass the legislature this week, signed by the governor and we can look forward to a timely spring 2022 primary process,” said Wice, an expert who assisted Democrats in previous redistricting cycles.
What Are Democrats Proposing?
New York’s congressional districts were supposed to be crafted by a panel known as the Independent Redistricting Commission, which was created after the last redistricting cycle in 2012.
But that commission failed to come up with a single, unified plan, as the five Democrat-aligned commissioners and five Republican-aligned commissioners reached deadlock earlier this month. That cleared the way for the Democrat-controlled state legislature to draw the lines themselves.
And that’s what happened Sunday, when the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment – which is led by Democrats and somehow known in Albany as “LATFOR” – released its proposal.
Among the major changes the plan would make:
- Long Island’s districts would be reshaped in a way that would make the second district, currently held by Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino, more Republican-heavy. But the remaining three districts would become more Democratic – including the third district, which would stretch from Suffolk County, around the Long Island Sound waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens, and all the way up into southern Westchester County to the Connecticut border.
- In New York City, the Staten Island-based 11th district – currently held by Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis – would see the most significant change, stretching further into Brooklyn to pick up part of the Democratic stronghold of Park Slope.
- And upstate, several districts would see major shifts, with the current 22nd district – held by Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney of the Mohawk Valley – facing elimination and being divided up among several neighboring districts.
The congressional redistricting in New York could have a significant national impact because of the current makeup of the House of Representatives.As it stands, Democrats have a narrow 222-212 majority in the 435-seat chamber. If New York’s proposed lines take hold, they could be in prime position to pick up a few additional seats.
What happens next?
The state legislature will have to put the plan to a vote, where the maps are expected to require a two-thirds majority to pass.
That’s likely to happen: Democrats hold a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly.
After that, it will be on to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the new lines into law.
Wednesday is the earliest the vote can happen since the proposals were introduced Sunday afternoon. Bills have to “age” for three days before they are voted on, unless Hochul were to issue an order waiving the waiting period.
What Will Republicans Do Now?
As it stands, Republicans hold eight of New York’s 27 current congressional districts. But at least three aren’t running for re-election: Tom Reed of the Southern Tier, who declined to run after he was credibly accused of sexual harassment; Lee Zeldin of Long Island, who is running for governor; and John Katko of the Syracuse area.
Nick Langworthy, chairman of the state Republican Party, ripped the Democrats’ proposed lines, calling them a “brazen and outrageous attempt at rigging the election to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker.”
“For all of their phony protestations about transparency and fairness in elections, what they’re doing is textbook filthy, partisan gerrymandering that is clearly in violation of the New York State Constitution,” Langworthy said in a statement.
Langworthy said the party is “reviewing all our legal options,” suggesting a lawsuit is forthcoming.
Wice said Republicans’ likeliest option for challenging the lines would be in state court, since federal court challenges would be restricted to issues regarding population equality and minority voting rights.
And that bodes well for the proposed map’s chances of withstanding a lawsuit, he said.
“The New York state courts have been very hesitant to reject any state legislatively enacted redistricting map,” Wice said. “In fact, no New York redistricting map has been rejected in state courts in more than 50 years.”