Tags Posts tagged with "redistricting"

redistricting

How changing political boundaries can have real consequences for voters and their representatives

An early political cartoon criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s practice of drawing bizarrely shaped state senate districts for partisan gain. Stock photo by Pixy

Redistricting is shaking up this election season.

Redistricting is the process by which new political boundaries are drawn to reflect the changes in populations across regions and states. New congressional districts, as well as state Senate and Assembly districts, are redrawn by state Legislatures every 10 years to accord with the most recent U.S. Census results.

‘Government at its worst.’

— Mario Mattera

This year, a cloud of uncertainty was placed over the electoral process when the state Court of Appeals blocked the New York State Legislature’s plans for redrawn district maps. The majority 4-3 decision sent the responsibility for redrawing the lines to an out-of-state independent commission.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), whose District 2 was altered significantly under the new lines, accused the majority in the state Legislature of attempting to gerrymander his district.

“What happened was — and I’m going to say this — the Democrats went in and gerrymandered the lines in the Senate and the congressional lines,” he said.

Unlike the district lines for the state Assembly, which Mattera suggested were worked out through a series of compromises between party leaders, the state Senate could not find a working agreement for new lines. The state senator also said that the lines could have been revised before they went to court, but the majority objected, hoping to win a favorable opinion for its unfair district maps.

“The judges ruled it gerrymandering, so it went to an outside commission called Special Masters, out of Pennsylvania, and it cost the taxpayers money to do this,” he said. 

Mattera expressed frustration at the process, which he said wasted time and taxpayer dollars unnecessarily. He called the recent redistricting process “government at its worst.”

‘I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines.’ — Jodi Giglio

New boundaries, altered communities

Under the new district maps, people in communities throughout Long Island will see major changes this year in their political representation. Mattera, whose district currently includes Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, will no longer represent those areas after this year. 

“Even though, as a Republican, I wasn’t getting the best results out of Setauket and Stony Brook, I still loved my district,” he said. “I did very well in knowing the people and getting to know everybody, and now I’ve lost all of the Township of Brookhaven.”

Mattera is not alone in losing a significant portion of his current constituency. State leaders all across the Island have had their district lines redrawn as well.

“Southold in its entirety has been taken away from Assembly District 2 and has been placed in Assembly District 1,” said state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), who represents the 2nd District. 

Despite losing Southold, Giglio is not disappointed by the changes in her district. She considered the redrawing of the Assembly lines a product of bipartisan negotiations and was glad to pick up new constituencies elsewhere. 

“I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines,” she said, adding, “I was pleased to pick up many people in the 2nd Assembly District and will continue to work for the people of Southold as I have grown very close to them.” 

‘It’s a fact of life.’

— Helmut Norpoth

Redistricting, past and future

Helmut Norpoth, professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, detailed the long history of partisan squabbles over district lines. He said gerrymandering has existed since at least the early 19th century. 

The word “gerrymander” was created after the infamous Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, a Founding Father and later vice president who first employed the tactic to create bizarrely shaped state senate districts. Norpoth said gerrymandering has been around “forever” and that “it’s a fact of life” whenever district maps are redrawn.

Norpoth and two of his students recently submitted a proposal to the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Their work is centered around making district maps fairer and elections more competitive. 

“One of the requirements that we followed in our proposal is to keep communities intact and minimize any splitting of a natural community into different districts,” Norpoth said. Districts “have to be contiguous, they have to be compact. They have to be as competitive as possible, so that the balance can give both parties a chance.” He added, “There are so many different angles that you have to abide by. It’s sort of a magic act to put it all together.”

‘It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts.’ — Robert Kelly

While there are so many variables considered while drawing district lines, supercomputing may help to speed up and simplify the process. Robert Kelly, professor in the Department of Computer Science at SBU, focuses on automated redistricting, which uses a mathematical formulation to generate district lines based on a wide range of constraints.

“That allows us to look at, for a given state, what the constraints are in redistricting, whether they be constraints by the state constitution, state laws or constraints given by federal court rulings,” he said. “With that, we can formulate a way to evaluate the quality of the given redistricting plan and then we can try to optimize that result.” 

While advancements in computer programming and supercomputing are helping researchers improve redistricting models, Kelly acknowledged that they can also be used for nefarious purposes.

“It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts,” he said. “The conclusion would be that with the availability of so much digital data that allows you to predict the voting patterns of individual voters and allows you to manipulate these district boundaries, it is creating a situation where more and more states are creating district boundaries that favor the political party that happens to be in power in the given state.”

With so much controversy today surrounding redistricting, it is questionable whether the problems of partisan gerrymandering will ever go away. Despite considerable effort by researchers like Norpoth and Kelly, conflict over district boundaries may be a feature inherent to any system that requires those lines to be redrawn.

When asked whether the redistricting process could ever become fairer, Kelly said, “Yes, I believe it could be more fair. … But would I predict that would ever happen? I would not bet on it.”

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) decided to end his four-year run as senator when he saw the boundaries of the fifth district.

“This was a decision I made pretty quickly once we got the final lines from the special master,” Gaughran said.

While Gaughran, who is also a practicing attorney, decided not to run, he is eager to embrace his duties for the remainder of the year. That includes figuring out ways to spend $350 million in an economic development grant program he helped put in place in the budget.

The grant program is earmarked for local governments and organizations for long-range improvements, including downtown revitalization and other development projects.

“One of the things I’m heavily focused on is working with the governor’s office and colleagues on how to spend that money” which will be authorized between now and the end of the year, he said.

Gaughan also said he plans to work with his staff for the remainder of the year to “help our constituents in as many ways as we can” with issues including unemployment.

He doesn’t have specific plans yet for his activities after he leaves office in January. As a citizen, he will get involved in community issues and speak out.

He said he has already spoken with Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son Scott Beigel, a teacher, was killed in the Parkland school shooting. He said he’d like to help Schulman in her efforts to “continue our fight to pass laws that are going to help us with gun safety.”

Schulman had publicly endorsed Gaughran’s candidacy for senate in 2020.

Partisanship concerns

The senator believes the biggest issue in politics at every level is polarization.

Gaughran suggested that bipartisanship is institutionalized in Albany.

“Republicans show up, feel that their sole responsibility is to be critics,” Gaughran said. He said that while criticism plays an important role in American society, he would have preferred to see more bipartisan efforts to work on legislation.

Republicans routinely voted against a capital budget that included money for improving roads and drainage and providing new sewer systems.

While they voted no, urging that the state couldn’t afford the debt, he said they still appeared at ribbon cuttings.

“I wish they could play more of a role to compromise and get things done,” he added.

Gaughran believes partisanship has prevented some people from speaking out about their own views.

“Just look at [Republican] Congressman [Chris] Jacobs,” Gaughran said.

Jacobs, who represents a heavily Republican district in Buffalo and who received the support of former President Donald Trump (R) and the National Rifle Association when he ran for office said he would back a federal assault weapons ban and place a limit on high-capacity magazines.

He made his comments after the attack in a Buffalo supermarket that killed mostly Black employees and shoppers.

Within a week of Jacobs’s remarks, “Republicans took away his nomination,” Gaughran added.

Reflecting on his role

Gaughran is pleased with several initiatives he supported or led, including election reform that made it easier for people to vote.

When he came into office, New York was ranked 44th in the nation in terms of voter turnout.

The climate change bill established a blueprint to get New York to use more renewable resources by 2030.

“When we passed the Reproductive Health Act in 2019, we were chastised by many Republicans” who thought such efforts were unnecessary in light of the protection offered by the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.

After a draft of a Supreme Court decision that appears poised to overturn that decision, Gaughran said that law is “one of the most significant things we did.”

He is also proud of an environmental bill he wrote to protect drinking water and was gratified by the additional school funding he supported.

Lessons learned

One of the most significant lessons he learned occurred in the area of the budget process.

When he first arrived, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) would submit a proposed budget. He and others would spend numerous hours analyzing it. He and his staff would come up with proposals and amendments.

“All of a sudden, this is a final budget” and he had to vote up or down, he said.

After the first year, he learned the process better and when he needed to push to get something added to the budget.

He described Cuomo as being “much more difficult” and that the former governor would “veto things and not even give you the time of day.”

He has a better working relationship with Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).

“She’s doing a great job,” he said. “She inherited a very difficult period of time, not just coming in after Cuomo … but also having to deal with the height of COVID-19.”

As for mental health concerns, Gaughran recalls his first week in Albany. He met with a corrections officer representative who worked in the state prison system. The officer said that half of the incarcerated were there for mental health reasons.

The officer told him that the corrections staff weren’t trained as mental health professionals, even though their jobs forced them to be.

A big part of the problem is that “a lot of people are walking around who need help and can’t find it,” Gaughran said. “They are getting caught up in the criminal justice system.”

Society needs to react accordingly, he said.

As for his best days as a senator, Gaughran suggested it was when he was passing laws for the first time.

“That was pretty cool,” he said.

New York State Map of Counties
Editor’s note: A March 31 court decision update is at the end of article.

By Lisa Scott

For New York State voters in 2022, redistricting is controversial, complex and changing. 

Gerrymandering is the intentional distortion of political districts to give one party an advantage. For decades in most states, the majority party in the state legislature drew maps for congressional and state legislature districts which would cement that party’s power for 10 years (until the next census). Nationally, gerrymandering has been criticized for disenfranchising many voters and fueling deeper polarization.

In New York State, voters in 2014 approved a constitutional  amendment which established an independent redistricting commission effective after the 2020 census. This amendment was presented as a way to create fair congressional and state senate and state assembly districts, keeping communities together and representation to minority areas to more fairly give all a voice through their elected officials. At the time, good government groups were divided about the amendment’s wording and potential effect … either a “step in the right direction” or “fake reform.”

In 2021, the newly formed NYS Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) traveled throughout New York State to hold numerous public hearings for input on the map lines that the commission would draw. Unfortunately the IRC was divided equally along partisan lines, and Republican and Democratic commissioners each submitted their own maps to the state legislature and were unable to submit the single plan required by the amendment.  

This failure of the IRC threw the district mapping back into the hands of the legislature (both the senate and assembly have Democratic supermajorities) and the legislature’s final 2022 district lines resulted in more districts with strong Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans then filed a lawsuit in Steuben County (upstate NY) which  threw the 2022 NYS election calendar into potential chaos as it moved through the court system. 

A judge did rule to allow this year’s maps/elections to take place as scheduled, but if Republicans win the suit it appears that there will be a repeat election for NYS Senate and Assembly in 2023 with newer district maps. This would result in state legislative elections in three consecutive years — 2022, 2023 and 2024. 

There has been concern and controversy about the congressional lines in Suffolk (CD 1, 2 and 3) whose boundaries have significantly changed. Some elected legislators no longer live in their districts, and there has been “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts) and “cracking” (diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts). Cracking was most evident regarding the Town of Smithtown, which is divided among 3 congressional districts, and the community of Gordon Heights, which does not have the single representative that they advocated for at many public hearings in 2021. 

Although the next Suffolk County Legislature elections will not be held until 2023, redistricting for the SC Legislature is mired in controversy as well. Legislators of both parties did not nominate representatives to a county redistricting commission in 2021. The Democratic majority therefore drew maps and passed legislation to create the new districts. 

Lawsuits were filed and County Executive  Bellone vetoed the bill in early 2022. A new independent/bipartisan redistricting commission is expected to start work in April 2022. Remember that your current Suffolk County legislator will represent you until January 1, 2024. Once the Suffolk legislative maps are drawn and approved, voting in the primaries and general election for those seats will occur in 2023 (not this year). 

The bottom line for Suffolk County voters? Find your new congressional and state assembly and senate districts at https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org. Voting in your new district takes effect with the 2022 primaries and general election. However your current representative in Congress and the state legislature will represent you until January 1, 2023.

As you can see, redistricting after the 2020 census has become controversial, complex, and changing. Today’s “rules” may be overruled by court decisions. Dates may change. Districts may be redrawn. Or nothing will change until 2030!

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

————————————————————-

Judge rejects New York’s redistricting plan, orders new maps

By Michelle L. Price | AP

Thursday March 31, 2022

NEW YORK — A judge has ordered New York’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to quickly redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts after finding they were unconstitutional.

Judge Patrick McAllister said in a Thursday ruling that maps redrawing the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. McAllister said those districts must be redrawn, along with the legislative districts, in a way that attracted at least some bipartisan support.

McAllister, a state trial court judge, gave lawmakers until April 11 to try again. If their new maps fail to pass muster in the courts again, the judge said he would order the state to pay for a court-approved expert to redraw the maps.

Legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling.

“This is one step in the process. We always knew this case would be decided by the appellate courts. We are appealing this decision and expect this decision will be stayed as the appeal process proceeds,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate majority.

A message seeking comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned.

The state’s primary elections are scheduled June 28 and candidates have already begun campaigning in the new districts.

The judge said that if the Legislature fails again and an outside expert is hired to draw the maps, the process would be expensive and lengthy and may leave the state without maps before Aug. 23, the last possible date that the state could push back its primary election.

Republicans had argued in a lawsuit that the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and marginalize GOP voters.

Former GOP U.S. Rep. John Faso, a spokesperson for the Republicans who filed the lawsuit challenging the maps, said Democrats willingly violated a prohibition on partisan gerrymandering.

“This is a victory for the people of the state and it’s a victory for competitive and fair elections in New York State,” Faso said.

Legislative and congressional boundaries are being redrawn as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process kicked off by the 2020 Census.

The maps, drafted by lawmakers and approved by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, ensured that Democrats made up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have for a decade.

Republicans currently hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.

In early March, McAllister said at a hearing that he didn’t think there was enough time to redraw the maps before the June primary. But the judge said he would issue a decision by April 4 about whether to uphold or strike down the maps.

The legal challenge in New York is among a series of disputes over redistricting playing out in states around the country.