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New Districts On the Way for Legislature

In part one of an occasional series on state redistricting, we look at redrawn territories, released today, for state senators and Assembly members.

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New state legislative districts that reflect population shifts seen in the 2010 census were released today.

The maps are published on the website of a legislative task force that drew the new district boundaries. Guided by population data, and likely a welter of political considerations, the bipartisan task force—its members selected by the Legislature’s divided leadership—has defined a new state political map in time for November’s elections. Those maps now go to the Assembly and State Senate for a vote. After that, they would go to the governor for a signature or veto, which has been threatened in the event of obvious gerrymandering.  

Though its work could influence electoral politics for at least the next decade, the task force toiled in secret, deciding behind closed doors on revised shapes and locations for the state’s 150 Assembly districts and, in a one-seat increase, 63 State Senate districts.   

With few New Yorkers able to identify the districts in which they live, let alone name their state senator or assemblyman, immediate interest in the maps will likely be limited, largely confined to officeholders, those who would displace them and the entourage of both. Within that realm, however, the decennial districting process seems inevitably to attract controversy. This time around, it has been especially contentious, drawing complaints from insiders like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, who want an independent—a nonpartisan rather than bipartisan—panel to draw the lines, and Common Cause, which has already drawn its own proposed districts.

In the end, said one Westchester politician, “The courts will probably have the final say.” A veteran of the county’s back rooms, he said it’s unlikely that districts drawn by any of the oft-mentioned mapmakers—the Legislature, the governor or an independent commission—would escape a legal challenge or two. “That’ll leave it to a judge to decide what the maps look like,” he said.

None of this political churn is provoked by the ostensible reason for remapped districts—the need to keep them roughly equal in population—but instead by how they place “different sets of voters together in new ways,” as the Brennan Center for Justice puts it.

“The way that voters are grouped into districts . . . has an enormous influence on who our representatives are, and what policies they fight for,” the public-policy body says in a study of redistricting.

Over the years, political strategists have jockeyed to leverage a district’s demographic data, combining or dividing ethnic, racial, religious and other concentrations to enhance their voting power, or minimize their strength.

In the practical politics of Albany, where Democrats overwhelmingly control the Assembly and Republicans have an edge in the Senate, party leaders typically strike deals on districting deals. This year, however, Cuomo has vowed to veto any maps that obviously exploit partisan differences or advantages

Today’s maps are advisory-only. In that sense, the bipartisan commission that drafted them— the Legislative Advisory Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment—functions as a legislative committee, reporting its work product to the full chamber for ultimate disposition.

LATFOR, as the commission is known in Albany, comprises two state senators, two Assembly members and two non-legislators, all of them appointed by the political leadership of the Legislature’s two houses.


NEXT: Congressional maps, cutting New York’s representatives from 29 to 27, are coming next.    

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