NY redistricting panel releases competing maps

By MARINA VILLENEUVE

The Associated Press

ALBANY — Republicans and Democrats on an independent commission tasked with drawing new political maps instead drew criticism Wednesday when they failed to agree on what they should look like and released competing versions.

The state’s loss of a congressional seat based on the most recent census date — from 27 to 26 — means a district will disappear. Under both Republican and Democratic maps, the vanishing district comes at the expense of upstate, which currently has 12 seats but will now have 11 under redrawn maps, if adopted.

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on hearings in the coming months.

But the release of competing maps by the Independent Redistricting Commission means that the bulk of the work on redrawing the state’s congressional map may fall later this year entirely to the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.

“This lets us know of the divisions among commission members and the inability to agree on one map, which makes their task more difficult and challenging as we approach the end of the year when either an agreed-to map or the maps with the most votes are sent to the Legislature,” said Jeffrey M. Wice, a New York Law School professor and an expert in census law and redistricting.

Seven out of 10 commissioners must agree on a map. The commission didn’t vote on the separate proposals Wednesday.

“If they divided 5-5, then conceivably two similar maps would be sent to the Legislature by the end of year,” Wice said.

In general, the final version of any political map doesn’t mirror the original proposal.

But Democratic State Party Chair Jay Jacobs said that Wednesday’s development suggests the Legislature will likely have to “start over” when redrawing the new maps.

And he said New York must act soon as 2022 candidates face deadlines to gather signatures.

New York is one of at least five states — along with Colorado, Michigan, Utah and Virginia — that have added nonpartisan redistricting commissions in the past decade in hopes of redrawing maps free of political influence and contorted gerrymanders.

But the competing maps released Wednesday drew immediate criticism from some quarters.

“It’s clear that these are partisan maps, and that they should drop the word independent from the name Independent Redistricting Commission,” said Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The commission’s initial draft underscores the challenges that lie ahead, one observer noted.

“It’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t bode well for the commission acting independently to come up with district proposals that reflect communities and local stakeholders — rather than political interests,” said Steven Romalewski, the director of CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research.

By Paul Wager