The bipartisan state commission charged with redrawing legislative and congressional district maps released two competing draft proposals on Wednesday after Democrat and Republican appointees failed to agree on one set of maps.
The unanimous decision by the Independent Redistricting Commission to release dueling Assembly, state Senate, and congressional district maps undermined the commission's stated goal of rooting out politics in the redistricting mapmaking process, which happens every ten years following the census count.
The outcome left many concerned that the final draft would once again be influenced by politics.
“There is a very big potential that this commission can turn around a very partisan product,” Jennifer Wilson, deputy director for the New York League of Women Voters, said.
Redistricting had been left up to the State Legislature up until 2014 when voters overwhelmingly approved the creation of the commission. However, a provision in the 2014 referendum, considered a failsafe, allows the State Legislature the ability to reject the commission's maps altogether and craft their own maps. Should the commission once again release competing final maps in the next few months, it enables the State Legislature to exploit that failsafe. This would benefit the Democrats who currently control both the Assembly and state Senate.
Drawing the congressional lines will serve as the main battleground between Democrats and Republicans since their maps will likely have major influence over the 2022 midterm elections. With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives by the narrowest of margins, the Democratically-controlled State Legislature is likely to approve maps that favor their party in time for the midterms. A similar move is happening across states with Republican-controlled legislatures, putting pressure on New York's legislature to deliver for Democrats just as the state is set to lose a congressional seat upstate.
That pressure is illustrated by the competing congressional set of maps. The proposed Republican map removed a Democratic seat currently held by Rep. Antonio Delgado, while Democrats proposed eliminating a Republican seat held by Rep. Tom Reed. Meantime, the city's lone congressional district in New York City that's currently represented by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis has been kept intact in both versions.
Republican appointees decried the Democrats' mapmaking approach, claiming they had misinterpreted the set of constitutional guidelines they must follow to draw the maps. Maps must be contiguous, comprised of roughly the same number of people, and avoid splitting up marginalized communities of color to avoid voter disenfranchisement. The idea is to avoid gerrymandering, a process where district lines are manipulated to favor one party over another.
Some Republicans argued the congressional maps might violate federal law since there is a disproportionately unequal number of people in some districts, and a signal any final map could be challenged in court.
"I can not help but be disappointed and regret the fact that we were not able as a commission to actually put a single product together," Jack Martins, a Republican appointee and former state senator, said before approving the plans.
But Democratic appointees emphasized that these maps are merely draft versions that allow New Yorkers greater options in deciding which ones they prefer.
"Everything at this moment doesn’t have to be perfect," Eugene Benger, a Democratic appointee, said.
The maps were posted on the commission's website shortly after the meeting. New Yorkers will be allowed to offer feedback on the proposed maps in a series of hearings set to begin in October (a full list of dates, times, and locations can be found here). Over the summer, the commission held similar listening sessions across the state to solicit input.
Commissioners had crafted the plans under a compressed timeframe, driven by delayed funding to convene the panel while also a four-month delay in the release of the census data needed to craft the maps. The delay gave mappers just under a month to draw the district lines.