2 Parties, 2 Maps: Democrats and Republicans Squabble on Redistricting


The Democratic and Republican members of New York’s new bipartisan redistricting commission failed to reach agreement on an initial set of congressional and legislative map proposals on Wednesday, an unfavourable start.

It was instead decided that for the time being, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission would proceed with two competing proposals drawn up by its Democratic members and one drawn up by its Republican members.

Both maps proposed eliminating a district in upstate New York, where the population has decreased, as a result of New York’s upcoming loss of a congressional seat. Conservatives may have a better chance of keeping seats in upstate New York and Staten Island than Democrats do, but Democrats’ proposals appear more likely to expand their hold on the state legislature by moving more seats downstate.

A single set of maps is not mandated by the State Constitution for the commission, which has drawn lines for the first time since it was formed in 2014, at this point in the process. Partisan fighting over what amounts to a preliminary discussion does not inspire hope that the commission can unite around a single set of bipartisan maps to submit to Albany for ratification.

Democratic supermajorities in Albany could take over the drawing of the maps if this plan fails. In case the commission is unable to come to a final agreement or produce a final result that party leaders like, they are already quietly circling. As a means of bolstering the Republican Party’s tenuous hold on the House of Representatives and the state legislatures in which it currently holds sway, the Democrats are hoping to flip as many as five Republican seats in Congress.

The redistricting commission in New York is mandated by the state constitution to be in charge of drawing district boundaries. However, if it is unable to reach agreement amongst itself or provides lawmakers with a map they simply do not like, the Legislature can overpower the body and establish almost any map they choose, as long as the districts meet constitutional requirements and are roughly equal in size..

After a 2012 partisan dispute, the current congressional map was drawn in New York City. Republicans in New York and Albany are certain to object to this process and may challenge the outcome in court.

It was only a matter of time before Republican commissioners pointed the finger at their Democratic counterparts, accusing them of scuttling efforts to resolve the two competing maps. The Republicans privately fear that the Democratic commissioners have no intention of finding an agreement and would prefer to let the body fail so that they can kick the process directly to the Legislature to draw more advantageous maps for their party.

With no agreement and Democrats’ plans lacking, the commission’s Republicans expressed their displeasure. “I had gone from being very hopeful to being supremely disappointed,” an independent commissioner, Ross Brady, said, citing what he called “large deviations in population.”

Democrats, on the other hand, were ready to make the case that having multiple maps would give voters a chance to compare them and tell the commission which ones they preferred. Even though they presented two maps on Wednesday, commissioners insisted that they could still come to an agreement and release just one.

Independent commission was established by constitutional amendment in 2014, but it was the result of a compromise between Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Republicans in the State Senate at the time, who controlled that body’s composition and its powers and duties. Starting this year, a new bipartisan commission will be responsible for drawing the state’s boundaries, removing the power of politicians in the Legislature who want to protect their party and their incumbents.

As a result, critics claim that the commission’s structure — with the majority of appointees selected by party leaders in the Legislature — makes compromise extremely challenging.

It wasn’t until April that the panel received funding from Albany, so the commissioners had to work for free for the first eight months. On the other hand, the Legislature has consistently funded its own map-drawing task force.

It wasn’t until late last month that the commission received detailed census data because of national delays, and it still needs data from the state’s prison population to fine-tune its maps.