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New York’s Congressional District Maps to Be Redrawn

Thu, 12/21/2023 - 06:23
New York State’s existing congressional and State Senate district map
New York State Board of Elections

A replay of the 2022 effort to redraw New York State’s congressional district maps may this time hand Democrats an advantage in next year’s elections, as the State Court of Appeals voted 4 to 3 last week to order the redrawing of the maps.

Voters in the state voted in 2014 to create the Independent Redistricting Commission to reform the redistricting process to introduce greater independence, conduct rational line-drawing, and protect minority voting rights. But in January 2022, following the 2020 census, the commission, comprising an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, could not agree on a redrawn map, and the matter was relegated to the State Legislature, where Democrats hold a majority in the Assembly and Senate.

Republicans accused the Legislature of gerrymandering, and a Steuben County judge declared all of the redrawn district maps unconstitutional, blocking their use. The State Court of Appeals sided with the Republican complainants in a split decision, and appointed a “special master” to draw new Legislature and congressional district boundaries.

Soon after, 10 registered New York voters, backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, brought a lawsuit seeking to return the redistricting process to the commission and the Legislature. Last week, the court sided with the plaintiffs. The commission “should comply with its constitutional mandate by submitting to the Legislature, on the earliest possible date, but in no event later than February 28, 2024, a second congressional redistricting plan and implementing legislation,” the majority wrote.

With the recent expulsion of Representative George Santos in the state’s Third Congressional District and the resignation of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, Republicans’ House majority over Democrats was reduced to 221 to 213, with one seat vacant. A redrawn congressional district map would render New York a pivotal battleground in the two major parties’ quest for control in November: With several freshman Republicans serving in districts that, in their current configuration, were won by President Biden, Democrats are sure to prioritize defeating those vulnerable incumbents.

Redrawn congressional districts that would favor Democrats, should they withstand a likely challenge from Republicans, could impact races including Representative Nick LaLota’s re-election effort in the First Congressional District, which covers the South and North Forks as well as Shelter Island, Riverhead, Smithtown, and Huntington Towns, and part of Brookhaven Town. While Mr. LaLota defeated Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming in the newly drawn district by around 10 percentage points in 2022, the First District was one of 18 nationwide won or held by a Republican that would have gone to Mr. Biden in 2020 had they existed in their current configuration.

Reaction to the ruling was immediate. The decision “is a win for democracy and particularly the people of New York,” Suzan DelBene, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a Dec. 12 statement. “We are eager for the Independent Redistricting Commission to get back to work to create a new, fair congressional map — through the process New York voters intended.”

But former Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican who served four terms in the First District before narrowly losing a challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul last year, said the Court of Appeals had “eagerly disgraced itself” with its ruling. Democrats “from Albany to Washington” and across the legislative, executive, and judicial branches had “colluded to give an enthusiastic middle finger to the voters, violate the state constitution, and toss out the state’s congressional maps,” he said in a Dec. 12 statement. The court had disgraced itself “in a way that will be taught in future law school classes about how, in some cases, merit, the Constitution, laws, facts, and the will of the people just don’t matter.”

Mr. LaLota told The Star last week in an interview that is covered elsewhere in this issue that he disagreed with the court’s decision.

Nancy Goroff, the Democratic Party’s 2020 nominee to represent the First District, is seeking her party’s nomination to oppose Mr. LaLota in 2024. Former State Senator James Gaughran, Craig Herskowitz, a former New York City judge, and Kyle Hill, who previously worked for Ms. DelBene, also seek the Democrats’ nomination.

The decision “forces the Independent Redistricting Commission to get back to work, follow the will of New Yorkers, and make a fair map,” Mr. Hill said in a statement last week. “This is a good day for democracy.”

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