Albany Agenda

NY Dems toss bipartisan congressional map

The state Senate and Assembly both rejected the proposed lines – which Democrats previously sued for.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said thanks but no thanks to the bipartisan commission that successfully came to consensus on a proposed map.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said thanks but no thanks to the bipartisan commission that successfully came to consensus on a proposed map. Screenshot, New York State Legislature

The state Legislature has officially rejected a proposal from the Independent Redistricting Commission to enact new congressional maps. Lawmakers will now need to draw and approve their own map.

In the state Senate 40 members voted to reject the legislation and 17 voted in favor of the Independent Redistricting Commission map. Every Democrat in the state Senate voted to reject the maps with the exception of state Sens. Simcha Felder, who voted in favor of the map, and Andrew Gounardes, who was not present for the vote. Not a single Republican voted to reject the map. Lawmakers would have needed a supermajority to approve the map. 

The Assembly rejected the IRC map 47-99. Assembly Member Jaime Williams was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the map. Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstien was not present for the vote.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, who leads his chamber’s redistricting efforts, commended commissioners on the bipartisan redistricting commission for their work, but said that the map they submitted “run afoul of the constitutional guidelines that exist.” He specifically noted commissioners seemed to draw several districts that benefited incumbents of both parties, and expressed concerns over lines that split up communities of interest. “So I will be voting in the negative and look forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly to come up with a better product that would better serve the people of this state,” Gianaris said. 

Assembly Member Ken Zebrowski, who leads the chamber’s redistricting efforts, gave an overview of how the Legislature got to this point, from last year’s state Court of Appeals lawsuit to a vote on whether to accept the bipartisan commission’s map. “All 150 members will now have to make a determination as to whether or not those maps are appropriate,” Zebrowski said before the vote. “One of those factors may be whether or not they believe they appropriately comply with the constitution.”

The bipartisan maps Democrats sued for – then rejected

The bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission voted 9-1 in favor of the maps that lawmakers voted down on Monday. Ahead of the 2022 midterms, the commission failed to agree on a single map and instead sent legislators two maps – one from Democrats and one from Republicans – that lawmakers rejected. Legislative Democrats then attempted to gerrymander the lines, but their map was thrown out by the courts, and an independent “special master” was brought in to draw fair lines for 2022. Democrats then successfully sued to return the process to the Independent Redistricting Commission for the 2024 maps, saying that it never completed its duties to send legislators a second map to consider.

Republicans lambasted Democrats for rejecting the map that experts from both parties agreed upon through the independent redistricting process as laid out in the state constitution. State Sen. George Borello said that getting nine out of 10 people from both sides of the aisle to agree is difficult, and that Democrats’ decision to reject the map “undermine(s)” that work. “The reality is we don't really care what the people think,” Borello accused Democrats. “We care what the political outcome is at the end. And that's what this is about.” 

Republican State Sen. Jack Martins also said that legislators should “celebrate” the fact that nine out of 10 commissioners agreed on a congressional map. “I'm going to remind everyone that we have a constitution that we've all sworn to uphold,” Martins said. “This is part of that constitution. And I'd rather have these maps prepared by non-politicians… and have them supplied to us in a nonpartisan way.” 

The good government group Citizens Union also denounced the map’s rejection, warning that it could lead to a delayed primary for the second cycle in a row. Petitioning is set to begin on Tuesday, and until lawmakers approve lines, candidates for Congress won’t know where they can gather signatures. “New Yorkers deserve better,” Citizens Union Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum said in a statement. “Going forward, we need a process that strengthens the independence of the Independent Redistricting Commission… We need to begin working to enact these reforms today, so the chaos of this redistricting cycle is not repeated again.”

What now?

According to one Albany source, the plan is to vote on a new congressional map as soon as Wednesday, if lawmakers receive a message of necessity from the governor. Normally, a bill must age three days before legislators can act on it, but the governor can waive that aging period to allow them to move faster. If they don’t receive a message, the hope is to vote on Thursday. That would require lawmakers to introduce new redistricting legislation Monday night.

The Assembly Democrats were set to meet for conference after session to discuss next steps for redistricting. State Senate Democrats were not scheduled for a similar meeting as of Monday evening. But Gianaris told members of his conference “not drift too far away tonight in case we need you back” as the chamber broke for the day.

Under current state law, legislators may need to keep any changes they make to the Independent Redistricting Commission map to a minimum thanks to a 2012 statute that places a 2% limit to legislative tweaks. That amounts to shifting around only 15,000 people per district. According to Jeff Wice, senior fellow at New York Law School’s redistricting institute, lawmakers would be wise to stick to the rule unless they introduce language to repeal or amend it before enacting their own maps. “There are options, but just to say ‘ignore it’ could be at peril of a lawsuit,” Wice said. He noted that the Court of Appeals decision that permitted the IRC to even draw more maps directly referenced the 2% rule.

Broadly, some Democrats have debated how binding the statute is, given that the state constitution gives lawmakers much more leeway to make changes to the commission’s maps, and the merits of changing the state law to remove the potential roadblock.

The lines that lawmakers rejected on Monday were very similar to those currently in place that were drawn by a court-appointed specialist. Democrats, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, called on lawmakers to reject the commission’s proposal last week and draw new lines. Democrats are currently trying to win back several House seats with Republican freshmen on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley and Central New York, as well as protect a vulnerable Democratic freshman of their own.

Democrats in the state Senate also voted to approve legislation that would limit where someone could bring a redistricting challenge to Westchester, Manhattan, Albany or Erie Counties. The bill faced staunch Republican opposition – Republicans originally challenged maps drawn by Democratic lawmakers in 2022 in conservative Steuben County. The case was heard by a Republican judge. Despite the opposition, it passed easily in the state Senate. The Assembly did not act on the bill on Monday.