After the release of a congressional redistricting map over the past weekend, the New York State Legislature released new maps for the State Senate and Assembly Monday night. Votes on all the plans are scheduled this week, with final votes on the state legislative plan by tomorrow.
Both plans had to make modifications to districts to meet population requirements and increased numbers in minority communities, with line shifts more pronounced in the State Senate districts to address prior imbalances. After decades of chronic malapportionment between upstate and downstate districts and severely gerrymandered districts drawn by the GOP in past decades, the new map provides for population balance and more minority representation in the Senate. Numerous prior court challenges to the Senate plans drawn by Republican majorities failed given the high bar the courts set before they would reject maps enacted by the legislature.
The dynamics of the line drawing changed in light of recent elections. Democrats won the State Senate majority in 2018 and gained a super-majority after the 2020 elections. The new maps presented this week end the under-populating of upstate Senate districts that benefitted Republicans (enabling them to draw more favorable districts with fewer people) and the overpopulating of downstate districts (that ended up creating fewer Democratic districts with more in each district).
The largest and smallest State Senate districts in place now vary by 8.8%. In contrast, that variance in the new plan falls to only 1.6%. In the Assembly plan, the districts are also equi-populated across the state.
As a result of lower population differences among Senate districts, two new minority districts are being created in New York City, including an Asian American district in Brooklyn and a Hispanic district in Queens. In addition, the first majority-minority Senate district is being created in Nassau County that includes over 50% minority voters, ending the longtime practice of dividing the county’s minority communities into several districts. In Suffolk County, the 3rd district’s Hispanic population increases significantly, too.
In upstate New York, several incumbent Senators were paired into single districts, including Democrat Tim Kennedy and Republican Ed Rath. In the Albany area, Republicans Jim Tedisco and Peter Oberacker were paired into one district. Syracuse and Rochester were divided into two Senate districts each.
Not everyone was pleased with all aspects of the maps. Common Cause NY’s executive director Susan Lerner released a statement calling the congressional maps uncompetitive, doing a “major disservice to the voters, who were first denied any hope of a truly independent process ten years ago when the so-called Independent Commission was conceived, and deserve legislative public hearings now.”
Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the state’s League of Women Voters, in her statement, said that “maps released on the 31st and the 1st reflect a Legislature that appears to care more about favoring partisan interests than it does for fair maps.”
After the Senate and Assembly vote to adopt the maps, they will send them to Governor Kathy Hochul for her approval. County election boards should have enough time to prepare for Spring primary petitioning, which is slated to get underway by March 1.
Republican leaders, not surprisingly, are calling foul and promise to challenge the maps in court. They may find, however, that the courts will reject their challenges just as other challenges have been rejected by federal and state courts for over 50 years. Time will tell.
Jeffrey M. Wice is an Adjunct Professor/Senior Fellow at New York Law School and an expert on redistricting.