For the first time in history, New Yorkers will have a say in how redistricting maps are drawn.
The maps, which are informed by the U.S. Census numbers, are critically important and will determine districts for the next 10 years for both the House of Representatives and the state Legislature.
David Imamura, an associate at Debevoise & Plimpton and the head of the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission, which is the new body designated to draw the first set of maps for New York, said the group is currently on a statewide listening tour that began this week on Long Island.
“We’ve been hearing from New Yorkers about their communities. They’re describing where they live, who they associate with, and how district lines affect them,” Imamura told Capital Tonight.
The commission must adhere to a very strict timeline.
In mid-August, the Census will release the raw data from which the maps are drawn. On September 15, the commission must provide an initial proposed set of lines using that data. A month later, the commission will conduct a second round of hearings around the state, asking New Yorkers to comment on the initial maps. In January, the commission must present the new maps to the Legislature, which may approve them or modify them or scrap them altogether.
Because the maps could make or break a politician’s career, and the process of drawing them has always been intrinsically political, there is a chance that a lawmaker could lobby one of the commissioners. Imamura said that hasn’t happened to him.
“I can only speak for myself. I can say that I have actively attempted to prevent any lobbying on my part. I have not talked to any state lawmakers or congressmen about the lines,” Imamura said.
However, Imamura also stated that an assemblywoman came before the commission this week during its public hearing on Long Island.
“I can say we are committed to maintaining an independent redistricting commission. And part of that is ensuring the average New Yorker has the same say in redistricting as a congressman in Washington or a state senator in Albany,” Imamura said.