The term redistricting may put some to sleep, but there is a practical reason why voters should pay attention. One example: A conservative voter in Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s district could see new congressional representation if a newly-drawn 21st congressional district includes the very Democratic city of Albany.
No one has floated that specific idea yet, but it provides one illustration of why redistricting matters.
This year, for the first time, an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) was tasked to draw the first and second drafts of new maps for Congress and the legislature. But last week, after the commission unveiled its first attempt, it was clear that partisanship had won in spite of the commission’s name.
The IRC came out with two maps each for congressional and legislative districts, one from Republican members of the commission and one from Democratic members.
“They have to try to come up with a single map, but that’s totally unclear at this point, given the acrimonious meeting they had last week, with the Republican accusations that the Democratic plan was illegal, failed to follow their agreements, that there are different data base lines… (and) that the deviations are different,” redistricting expert Jeff Wice told Capital Tonight.
Wice, who serves as both adjunct professor and senior fellow at the NY Census & Redistricting Institute at New York Law School, has been involved in multiple rounds of redistricting in New York state.
After looking at the draft maps, he told Capital Tonight that just among the Democrats, there appears to be different thresholds. For example, the population deviations in Democratic Assembly districts is 8% while the population deviation in Democratic Senate districts is 6%.
“We don’t know what the Republican (deviation) numbers are because they didn’t really say,” Wice explained. “There are a lot of unknowns.”
While several editorial boards have opined that the IRC was designed to fail, Wice urges the public to weigh in during the Commission’s statewide hearings, which will take place in October and November.
“It is worth going to the hearings because every witness, every statement counts to what the legislature might consider later if it’s necessary for the legislature to draw a plan, or a plan is challenged before a court,” Wice explained. “They will look back to see what the public said.”
Time is of the essence. The maps need to be approved by the beginning of February so they don’t interfere with petitioning to get on the ballot. If the legislature is pressed for time, members could review the public hearings for what Wice called “background and insights”.
The first IRC hearing takes place in Buffalo on Wed. Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. For more information, visit www.NYIRC.gov.