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New District Maps Deal a Blow to State's Democrats

Thu, 05/26/2022 - 12:08
Following a redrawing of the district maps, primary elections for Congress and the State Senate have been postponed from June 28 to Aug. 23.
Durell Godfrey

A New York State Supreme Court judge certified the 2022 congressional and State Senate district maps on Friday, dealing a blow to Democrats who had sought to gain seats through district remapping drawn by the Democratic-dominated State Legislature in February. 

State residents voted in 2014 to establish the Independent Redistricting Commission to reform the redistricting process to introduce greater independence, conduct rational line-drawing, and protect minority voting rights. But the commission, comprising an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, could not agree on a redrawn map, and the matter was relegated to the Legislature, where Democrats hold a majority in the Assembly and Senate. 

Republicans accused the Legislature of gerrymandering, the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one party over another practiced in many states and by both major parties. Justice Patrick McAllister of Steuben County declared all of the redrawn legislative district maps unconstitutional on March 31, blocking their use. The State Court of Appeals sided with the Republican complainants in a split decision announced on April 27.

Jonathan Cervas of the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh was appointed by the Court of Appeals to draw new Legislature and congressional district boundaries. He submitted his maps on May 16. 

Consequently, primary elections for Congress and the State Senate have been postponed from June 28 to Aug. 23. As Republicans did not challenge maps for the State Assembly, the primary election for those seats is unchanged, though the League of Women Voters of New York State filed a lawsuit on Friday seeking the alignment of that primary election with those for the State Senate and Congress. That matter is covered elsewhere in this issue. 

In his decision, Justice McAllister, a Republican, wrote of a need to correct what he called misconceptions in many of the public comments made last week. One, he wrote, is that the maps he approved constitute a Republican gerrymander. 

"All three courts that reviewed this matter came to the same conclusion that the Respondents had unconstitutionally produced gerrymandered maps," he wrote. "The fact is that Petitioners/Republicans were successful in proving those maps were gerrymandered. However, the result is not that the Petitioners/Republicans now get to draw their own gerrymandered maps. . . . The result is simply that Petitioners get to have neutral maps drawn by an independent special master as approved by the court." 

Under the Democrats' redrawn congressional district map, a Democratic gain of three seats in the state's congressional delegation was likely. That map would have favored only four Republicans being elected, Justice McAllister wrote. The state has 26 congressional districts.

"The fact that this map will likely result in more than four Republicans being elected to Congress does not mean or indicate in anyway [sic] that this map is gerrymandered to favor Republicans. What this map does do is create eight competitive districts in which either party has a reasonable chance to win and three districts in which the Republicans will likely win. On the other hand the Democrats have 15 safe districts."

The court has made "a few minor adjustments" to the congressional map "to accommodate several concerns that were raised by the public" during a brief public comment period last week, Justice McAllister wrote.

The state's First Congressional District is little changed from its previous footprint, growing slightly at its northwestern boundary to edge farther into Smithtown. The district is up for grabs, with Representative Lee Zeldin, a fourth-term incumbent, seeking the Republican Party's nomination for governor of New York. 

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn announced the suspension of her campaign for the Democrats' nomination on Sunday, and Jackie Gordon, a former member of the Babylon Town Board, said that she will seek the Democrats' nomination in the Second District as she lives within its redrawn boundaries. That leaves Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming as the apparent likely Democratic nominee. Candidates for the Republican nomination include Anthony Figliola, Robert Cornicelli, and Nicholas LaLota. 

Redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts follows the decennial United States census. Mr. Cervas's redrawn congressional district boundaries appear likely to encourage Republican gains in the midterm elections, which could return Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives.


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