The way forward to redraw the maps of the New York Assembly

New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission will carry the mantle of redrawing the state’s Assembly districts, and the midterm elections could affect the process. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

A judge last week ordered the New York Independent Redistricting Commission, or IRC, to redraw the state Assembly’s 2024 legislative districts, after they were ruled unconstitutional earlier this year. .

Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, spoke with Vaughn Golden on the WSKG’s Politics Tuesday podcast about the path forward for redistricting and how Democrats’ performance in the midterm election -mandate could come into play.

Vaughn Golden: So the Manhattan judge decided to hand over the redistricting process to the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission, or IRC. Legislative leaders, all Democrats had been pushing for it, but that’s despite the commission coming to an impasse earlier this year, which ultimately led to the long chain of events leading up to the highest state court invalidating all the maps that were then drawn by the legislature instead, can you explain a little bit about Judge Lawrence Love’s reasoning for giving this panel another chance?

Li: Of course, you know, the reason the Congress map and the State Senate maps are redrawn by a special master, the reason a special master redrawn these maps is that they were trying to get the changes in time for the 2022 elections and there was simply not enough time to allow the political process to start again. And so the court, Steuben County Judge McAllister said, “I’m going to appoint a special master,” and the special master ended up redrawing the maps. The state assembly card lawsuit came later and it happened so late in life, but it was too late to even try to make changes for 2022.

So you’re really talking about changes for 2024. And what Judge Love was that there was enough time since you’re talking about 2024 elections two years from now, for the political process to try to draw the maps and that it was optimal that, that it’s always better that the people who are supposed to draw the maps do it because they can hold hearings, and his order establishes, you know, a solid schedule of hearings throughout the state that are now needed. And so that’s meant to, you know, produce a much more responsive map.

Ideally, now, you know, the commission, as you pointed out last time, is deadlocked, and it’s, it’s a very easy committee to deadlock and the deadlock can happen again, but at the unless the judge thought to himself, we’re gonna try to get these guys and girls to do it again.

Golden: Alright Alright. And so the process that he laid out also requires the Legislature and this is also part of the Constitution, the Legislature votes on the cards adopted by the IRC, and that gives it the power to draw new ones, the Legislature , if this panel fails. Could you walk us through how lawmakers will go about it, whether they’re voting on the maps or drawing them? And what is your assessment of where they might try to drive this process, given what we saw earlier this year?

Li: Well, under the New York Constitution, the commission that draws the maps doesn’t have final authority to adopt the maps. You can only recommend cards to the legislature and the legislature votes up or down. They can make some changes but you know they vote up or down the cards and if they, if they vote down the card the commission will review the process and come up with a second card and if that’s voted down , the legislator has the power to draw up his own map. And so you know, if you’re a Democrat and you like what the commission did, you know, you have your approval, if you don’t like what the commission did, you can vote against it. And at some point, assuming the Democrats retain control of the process, the New York government remains under Democratic control, the Democrats will have the opportunity to pass their own map. And that opens the door to a lot of, you know, it gives them a lot of control over the process both for good and potentially for bad. But you know, that’s how the process works in New York now. The potential sticking point in all of this is that, like I said, like the commission, it’s very easy to get the commission locked up and you might see the commission get locked up again…

Golden: It’s true, because we saw it earlier this year.

Li: …because there were no maps passed for the legislature to consider so, you know, a court probably has to step in and do all the math.

Golden: It’s true and really, the atmosphere around it hasn’t changed, though, because that incitement to stalemate is still there, despite another chance, isn’t it?

Li: It’s true. The New York reforms, one weakness is that it’s very easy to get stuck and, the people who are appointed are not totally independent, are they? They are people chosen on purpose by the legislative leaders, probably because they will, they are very sensitive to politics, and maybe even do what the legislative leaders want.

And so, you know, that’s in contrast to a state like California, where you have a very independent selection process where legislative leaders don’t really have much of a role in that process and you end up with commissioners who are a lot removed from the political process, and it tends to work out better. New York has a number of problematic design features, which got us in trouble last time around, it could get us in trouble this time around as well.

Golden: Right. So the judge’s order and New York’s constitution state that if one party controls both houses of the legislature, which Democrats currently do, in order to approve the new maps, they must pass with a two-thirds majority. . You know, right now the Democrats have that two-thirds majority in the Assembly, and they barely have it in the Senate. This, and this is speculation, but could you reasonably see a scenario where legislative leaders push to approve the maps in a special session later this year, if they ultimately lose one of their majorities of two-thirds in the November election before that, which legislature is then sitting in January?

Li: I think that’s not very likely a scenario or if they do that I think it will go against the courts because the court has been very specific that the commission has to come up with the maps and the legislature has to vote on them. And that’s not expected to happen until 2023 after this year’s election. You know, the legislature hijacking the process is what got the cards canceled in the first place. And so, you know, I guess anything is possible in New York, you know, people will often repeat the same mistake.

But, you know, I think, you know, I think they’re kind of in a rock between a rock and a hard place. I think, like, if control is split, you know, maybe the momentum is, you know, they don’t have a two-thirds majority, you know, maybe the momentum in this case, is a little more ready to , to compromise, isn’t it? Because if the Democrats have a two-thirds majority in both houses, you know, their motivation is to try and throw out the maps drawn by the commission because they don’t like them, and then make a gerrymander, and they can pass this gerrymander with a two-thirds majority, if they don’t have the two-thirds majority needed to pass it, then they have to compromise to come up with a map or a court will draw the map.

And so I think, with the Democrats not having a two-thirds majority in either chamber, changes the dynamic a lot and means maybe you end up with something reasonable, you know, that this either a reasonable commission card that the legislature adopts or if the legislature adopts its own version of a compromise. Because, you know, it’s only to the extent that, you know, the reason we’ve had this problem is that the Democrats have the ability to gerrymander, they may not have the ability to gerrymander after the next elections.

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