Independent Redistricting Commission Prepares to Redraw Assembly Maps Again

ALBANY — The elections may be over, but the Assembly’s political boundaries are far from settled after voters were allowed to elect candidates based on district maps that were ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

Boundaries are expected to be revamped for next year’s election and could result in maps that create more competitive districts. The redrawn maps could lead to slightly more favorable districts for Republicans, who won a string of key victories in several New York congressional districts this month.

The first look at the new Assembly cards is scheduled for December 2 at the latest. The Independent Redistricting Commission, which had been briefly inactive, was ordered by a judge to reconvene and present an initial map by next month and a final proposal by April. Public hearings would follow the first map.

Yet the commissioners are also monitoring ongoing legal proceedings that could strip them of their legal duty to retool the cards. An ongoing bipartisan challenge is seeking a court order requiring a “special master” to draw the maps, similar to what happened to the political maps of Congress and the state Senate earlier this year – a venture that led to the primaries of these elections being pushed back from June to August.

These court-drawn maps were at the center of one of the few “red waves” in this month’s election, when Republicans in New York helped the party stay the course for a win. majority in the House and also triggered a slight reduction of a historic. It’s unclear whether Democrats will hold their two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, which political observers note could play a role in the ability to pass Democratic-backed House cards in the House. legislative.

“There are a lot of balls in the air,” Jeff Wice, a New York Law School professor and redistricting expert, said Wednesday. “We are in the 7th inning with no score.”

Another dynamic: The Democratic chairman of the commission, David Imamura, resigned this week as he seeks a position in the Westchester County Legislative Assembly.

Westchester County Deputy Executive Ken Jenkins was then nominated by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​on Wednesday to replace Imamura. A new president has not yet been appointed.

The current Assembly maps were drawn by the Democratic majority in the Legislative Assembly. Unlike the state Senate and Congressional maps, these political boundaries were not contested by Republicans. (A handful of Republicans voted in favor of the Assembly cards.)

After New York’s highest court upheld lower court rulings that the Democrat-drawn maps were unconstitutional, they effectively only had the ability to rule on the Senate and Congress maps. The Court of Appeals also declared the Assembly cards to be procedurally unconstitutional, although the card itself was not necessarily minted as explicitly gerrymandered.

After a recent legal battle — which included a last-ditch effort to get new assembly lines ahead of the election — a Manhattan state Supreme Court justice agreed to give the cutting commission a “rare opportunity for a second bite of apple”.

“This court is loath to usurp the authority of the people and the democratic process provided for by the constitution and the legislature,” Supreme Court Justice Laurence L. Love wrote in his September ruling. “”However, all must take this into account.

“If the parties again fail to fulfill their constitutional obligations, this court will have no choice but to step in and take on that responsibility,” Love wrote.

The stewards are looking forward to this second shot.

“At the end of the day, it just takes a commitment to compromise,” former Assemblyman Charles H. Nesbitt said in an interview Wednesday. “I hope we do better this time.”

Nesbitt is expected to become the Republican chairman of the commission, following the departure of Jack Martins, who left to run for a state Senate seat. (Martins beat State Senator Anna Kaplan in a Long Island race. There are no bans on commissioners running in the districts they were part of.)

Nesbitt described himself as “more optimistic than I was last time” about being able to get the politically divided 10-member commission to accept a set of cards. He called himself one of the most optimistic members last time around and things fell apart in the 11 a.m. negotiations.

The decision on who draws the maps for the Assembly could rest with the Court of Appeal, although Chief Justice Janet DiFiore retired this year.

The state’s highest court ruled 5-4 on the original redistricting lawsuit that led to a special master drawing new districts. DiFiore was the majority.

“We will do what we ordered,” Nesbitt said. “We are tools, not decision makers.”

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