With New York’s congressional and state Senate maps officially tossed after a Court of Appeals decision, all eyes now turn to one man: Jonathan Cervas, who is tasked with coming up with new lines. A state Supreme Court judge appointed Cervas as a neutral special master to submit new maps for court approval should the need arise. It was a preemptive move before an intermediate court had even heard arguments for its appeal, but ultimately a warranted one as Cervas can immediately begin his work to offer new maps to the court by a May 16 deadline.
If reading Cervas’ name has left you scratching your head, you’re not alone. He is not a well-known politician, a pundit that offers opinions on cable news or a famous attorney who hosts a podcast. In fact, he’s not even from New York. But Cervas is someone with experience in cleaning up redistricting messes with a PhD in political science who has done extensive research on reapportionment, even if the average New Yorker has never heard of him. As he goes about his new task of evaluating the state Senate and congressional maps in order to submit new ones, here are four things to know about the man entrusted with drawing lines that could impact the balance of Congress.
This is not Cervas’ first rodeo …
Cervas most recently served as a consultant for the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission, tasked with redistricting in his home state. The maps he helped draw had bipartisan approval, with four out of the five commission members representing both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor of the lines he helped to draw. And when the maps headed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for final approval, the court did so unanimously – a rarity in the state where the courts often split along party lines. Cervas received praise for his work in Pennsylvania, with the commission’s chair Mark Nodenberg telling Spectrum News that he is “smart, well-educated, experienced, knows the law and really is committed to basic fairness under the law.”
… But Cervas is flying solo for the first time
Although he comes in with extensive experience and credentials, this is Cervas’ first time serving as a court-appointed special master. In the past, he worked as an assistant to a special master in three different cases that required judicial remediation. The first was in 2017 in Utah, the second a year later in Virginia, where he helped to redraw a quarter of the state’s House of Delegates district lines after a challenge made its way to the Supreme Court, and most recently in Georgia in a case involving school districts that garnered national attention. This time around, Cervas will act as the special master himself, taking charge of the map drawing process.
Cervas lives and breathes politics and redistricting
Cervas has both an undergraduate degree and PhD in political science, the latter of which he earned in 2020. He wrote his dissertation on the electoral college, exploring both its history and its consequences. Cervas is also a specialist in mapping technology called geographic information systems, a helpful tool in evaluating the fairness of legislative maps and assessing the influence of potential gerrymandering. Until relatively recently, he worked as a research associate for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, dedicated to ensuring fair representation during redistricting. And now, when he isn’t helping courts and states with redistricting, Cervas is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University. Get a taste of his expertise for yourself in this 15-minute video in which he explains “13 keys to understanding contemporary American politics.”
He thinks Donald Trump should support ranked-choice voting
Cervas has published several papers relating to redistricting, democracy and the electoral college. But one paper entitled “Why Donald Trump Should be a Fervent Advocate of Using Rank-Choice Voting in 2024” would catch the eye of any ranked-choice voting enthusiast, particularly in New York City, which just implemented its first elections with the system in its primaries last year. It makes the case that Trump could have won more states had they implemented ranked-choice voting in the presidential election in 2020 due to votes likely drawn away by the Libertarian candidate in the race. Why? To show that ranked-choice voting is not just something that would benefit Democrats. Not related to redistricting, but both interesting and a testament to Cervas’ nonpartisan mindset.
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