The task of drawing New York’s political maps falls to a rural judge and Carnegie Mellon scholar – NBC New York
After New York’s highest court rejected new maps of congressional districts drawn by the state legislature, the task of redrawing them was given to a rural judge and a Carnegie Mellon University researcher.
The Democrats’ hopes of crafting an electoral map strongly favorable to their party suffered a blow on Wednesday when the state Court of Appeals ruled that the Legislature maps were unconstitutionally Gerrymander.
The High Court assigned responsibility for creating a new set of maps to State Judge Patrick McAllister – the lower court jurist who had originally declared the maps unconstitutional. Anticipating that the higher courts would agree with him, McAllister had already selected an independent expert to help draw up the maps, Jonathan Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Politics and Strategy.
The pair now face a tight deadline to come up with new cards, even as state officials try to figure out what to do about the state’s primary elections, scheduled for June 28.
The state may still hold primaries in the contests for governor and state assembly on that date, but the primaries for Congress and the state Senate could be moved to August.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said state leaders are still deciding what to do.
“It’s a very fluid and new situation,” she told reporters on Thursday.
Appeals court judges removed responsibility for crafting the new maps from the Legislative Assembly, ruling that it had exceeded its authority by unilaterally creating its own maps of Congress and the state Senate. The legislature had made the decision after the Independent State Redistricting Commission — made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats — failed to produce a consensus map.
Cervas, who will lead the development of the replacement maps, previously played a key role as a consultant who helped create legislative district maps for the Pennsylvania Legislative Redistribution Commission. He has also assisted in court-supervised redistricting programs in Utah, Virginia, and Georgia.
He declined a request for an interview from The Associated Press on Thursday, but said: ‘I am pleased to help the courts of New York provide constitutional maps that will ensure equal representation for all residents of New York for the next decade.”
Cervas is scheduled to hold a public hearing on May 6 at a courthouse in Bath, New York. According to the judge’s schedule, he should produce a draft map by May 16. The final version should be made no later than May 24.
A judge ruled the newly drawn district maps were unconstitutional, finding Democrats were biased when they drew them. Now, there are fears the decision could play into the fast approaching Democratic primary. Reporting by NBC New York’s Melissa Russo.
On Thursday, state election commissioners asked the judge to stick to that timeline, or even speed it up, if the state must meet a series of legal deadlines before the November election.
A primary in August would provide time to pass new maps, send correct information to voters, complete the candidate petition process and comply with federal voting laws. Ballots for military and foreign voters must be mailed at least 45 days before a primary.
For the past few years, New York has held primaries through September.
“You can’t overturn a statewide election in a penny or in a month,” said Jeffrey Wice, a New York Law School professor and redistricting expert.
Lawmakers can pass legislation to delay the primary to August. A spokesman for the state Board of Elections, John Conklin, said the judge could also decide on a date without needing legislative approval.
A potential wrinkle in the postponement of the primary could be a decade-old court order that the state congressional primaries be held on the fourth Tuesday in June. Conklin said state election officials believe the order contains enough flexibility for the date of the vote to be moved, though the state would consult with the U.S. Department of Justice to see if a federal court might have need to review any changes.
Gerrymandering is a uniquely American problem that ends up disenfranchising tens of millions of American voters. NBCLX political editor Noah Pransky used his favorite candy to explain what it is and how it can be solved.
Legislative leaders did not immediately provide a response Thursday when asked if they would agree to postpone the primary. Hochul said she wasn’t overly concerned about the delay or that the judges struck down cards drafted by Democrats.
“Democrats have engaged in a process that has taken place in state legislatures across the country, sometimes it ends in litigation, sometimes there is a different outcome. It’s just part of what happens every decade,” Hochul said.
As for the ability to appeal the Court of Appeals decision overturning the Legislative Assembly cards, Wice said Democrats don’t really have an option.
Democrats could, he said, adopt a strategy used by Republicans in North Carolina. In February, Republicans in North Carolina asked the United States Supreme Court to block a congressional redistricting plan crafted by state judges.
GOP legislative leaders have argued that state judges have overstepped their authority because the US Constitution gives state legislators the power to determine how to hold US House elections. The Supreme Court is expected to weigh this issue during its fall term starting in October.
But Wice said he’s not recommending New York Democrats emulate a strategy he says challenges the power of state courts to strike down other laws passed by lawmakers.
Democrats could also take legal action to challenge the maps passed in state court, according to Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault.