The group Common Cause New York has drawn its own congressional and state Senate district maps which it submitted last week to Special Master Dr. Jonathan Cervas, who is charged with drawing the state's new boundaries for those districts after the Legislature's maps were overturned in court.

“The special master has indicated that he is going to take a serious look at everything that’s been submitted to him,” Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner told Capital Tonight.  “We expect that our maps will receive consideration.”

The group used software called “DistrictR” to help draw the maps, which is relatively easy to use. You can find here.

In order to ensure that “communities of interest” were accounted for, Common Cause convened groups of New Yorkers from various geographical areas around the state and asked them to collaborate to come up with sets of maps. 

What emerged from these discussions were “community maps."

“A community map is a map where a particular group of people gets together and they collaborate in defining where the boundaries are for their neighborhood, for their actual community,” Lerner explained.

The maps that Common Cause submitted to the special master differ in some significant ways from the original maps drawn by Democrats which were ultimately cast aside by the New York State Court of Appeals.

“Our map, actually, has more of a north-south orientation and we have held, for instance, (that) Ithaca is a city that we have held together with Syracuse, for instance,” Lerner said.  “And we’ve held Tompkins County with counties to the east rather than the west because we found that in discussing situations with people on the ground in Ithaca, that they feel they have more in common with the counties to the east that have a larger number of college towns, for instance, than the counties to the west in the Southern Tier, which are much more rural and farm-oriented counties.”

Another principle that informed Common Cause’s map-making: The group believes that an urban area is a community of interest.

“So, the maps we draw hold Buffalo and Rochester together as a community of interest and we hold Syracuse and the surrounding area of Onondaga as a community of interest,” Lerner said.

As for why the group has spent time and resources creating these new maps? 

“Voters need a fair chance to choose their representatives and not have politicians choose their voters,” Lerner explained. “It’s very straight forward.”

She also warned that decade after decade of gerrymandering has led to more extremism in Congress. 

“What you have then is a situation in which the candidate doesn’t have to worry about who’s running against them in the general election, where they would need to appeal to a broader selection of voters, and tend to take more middle of the road or moderate positions,” Lerner said. “They’re frightened of being primaried and therefore they feel they need to take a more extreme position in order to discourage people in their own party from running against them.”

Lerner told Capital Tonight that her organization didn’t have the time or resources to draw new Assembly maps. 

The deadline for the special master to deliver New York state’s congressional and state Senate maps is May 20.