For the first time ever, New York has opted to use a commission to draw new congressional and state legislative maps — a task that, in the past, had been left to the state Legislature (or, in some cases, the courts).
But after 16 meetings and almost 3,000 public comments, the Democrats and Republicans on the Independent Redistricting Commission have not been able to come to an agreement on a single set of maps.
On Monday, the commission released two competing sets of maps, one backed by Democrats and the other backed by Republicans.
According to David Imamura, a Democrat and commission chair, there were four sets of meetings. Initially, he was optimistic, but he told Capital Tonight by the final meeting, it was clear the commissioners were at an impasse.
“Our Democratic side came together and said, this is not really going anywhere. Let’s put together a map that tries to combine everything we’ve discussed and everything that we’ve agreed on and put it together into a single cohesive proposal and present it to our Republican colleagues,” Imamura explained.
But the attempt was construed by Republicans as a power-grab.
State Sen. Jack Martins, the Republican vice chair of the commission, sent out an emailed statement on the impasse, which said in part, “the map presented by the Democrat appointed Commissioners on December 21st was virtually identical to the partisan map they presented in September before the hearings, the testimony and the Commission’s negotiations."
Imamura rejects that characterization.
Regardless, the clock is ticking.
According to Jeffrey Wice, adjunct professor of law at New York Law School and Senior Fellow at the Law School’s Census and Redistricting Institute, the next step in the redistricting process is a legislative vote on the two sets of maps released on Monday. A two-thirds majority in each house is required for the maps to pass. Then Gov. Kathy Hochul would then have to sign off on them.
If the maps are rejected by either house, the Independent Redistricting Commission would get one more shot at drawing new maps and the Legislature would get one more chance to vote on them.
“I have every hope that we will still come together for a bipartisan compromise,” Imamura said. “I’m not as hopeful as I was, perhaps, a month ago, but if the Legislature rejects, we do have one more bite at the apple, and the offer still stands for our Republican colleagues.”
If the Legislature rejects the commission’s maps a second time, lawmakers would draw their own maps, which some suggest is precisely what they intended to do all along.
Regardless of who wields the drawing pencil, a vote must take place soon because petitioning for this year’s elections will likely begin around March 1.
“This is a first-time process so we have to see how it plays out,” Wice explained. “We need some leeway for county boards of elections to enact the maps so the petitions can get ready.”
Wice said the maps need to be completed and voted on by the Legislature by mid-February, if not earlier.