Viewpoint: No sympathy for Republicans over New York State redistricting

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Viewpoint: No sympathy for Republicans over New York State redistricting

I have little sympathy for New York State Republicans – or the good-government Common Cause, for that matter – over the charges of Democratic gerrymandering in redistricting, when much of the redistricting was aimed at undoing decades of Republican gerrymandering.

Democrats had to counter the Trump-Republican sabotage of the 2020 census which, for lack of 89 responses (based on April 1 residency, when New York was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic), we lost a Congressional seat; and the shameless way Republican-dominated legislatures around the nation are gerrymandering, suppressing votes and subverting elections while upholding sedition, insurrection and an attempted coup (fake electors from 7 states).

Republicans were salivating at New York State’s loss of a Congressional seat, expecting this to be one more nail in the coffin of a Democratic majority in Congress – ever.

So until Republicans go along with the Voting Rights Act and Freedom to Vote Act which would end partisan gerrymandering and provide minimum, uniform federal standards for voters’ access to the ballot and protections for free and fair elections, and the Justice Department holds the coup plotters and insurrectionists to account, I see New York as an important bastion in preserving democracy, which is hanging by a thread.

But Republicans have little incentive to adopt federal election protection standards because they count on Democrats to adhere to principles they ignore.

Still, it is frankly pathetic how the so-called New York Independent Redistricting Commission – the state’s first attempt at a nonpartisan, public participation process – was set up to fail.

“We are proud to have conducted a public-first process in which more than 4,000 New Yorkers made their voices heard,” the Democratic NYIRC commissioners stated. “This input had a major impact on our deliberations and line-drawing, and we changed more than 87% of the lines in our September maps to our January maps based upon extensive consideration of this public comment.

The Commission has conducted 24 public hearings both in-person and online where we listened to more than 51 hours of testimony from over 630 speakers. These hearings have had more than 12,000 views online. The Commission has received over 3300 written submissions, testimony and maps with nearly 4,500 pages of public input from New Yorkers.”

Having listened in on several and attending the public hearing held at Nassau Community College, I can appreciate the complexity and difficulty of the task –speakers either wanted to keep their district intact or their community of interest intact which might have meant reaching into another district, but keep their border (not cross into Queens, or visa-versa, for example). And the districts had to work mathematically to reach that ideal of “one person, one vote.”

You knew from the get-go that Republicans weren’t interested in fairness – despite the fact that the state’s population (which was supposed to shrink but instead increased) saw the bulk of that increase in New York City and downstate while decreasing upstate, they wanted downstate to lose the Congressional seat – combining the seats now represented by Democrats Thomas Suozzi (running for Governor) and Kathleen Rice.

So, although the NYIRC never offered to explain or justify their maps in order to generate public consensus, it is important to see what in fact was produced was close to the ideal:

Democrats in New York currently hold 19 Congressional seats, while Republicans control eight seats (27 in all). The new map, allowing one less seat as a result of population loss, would favor Democrats in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.

In comparison, according to Steven Stowitts Elliott, a retired state worker, the NYIRC, who analyzed the NYIRC maps, Congress A (Democratic) plan would have created 18 districts leaning Democratic, two leaning Republican and six in the 45-55% competitive range; 9 majority-minority districts, five with two or more incumbents.

The NYIRC Congress B (Republican) would have created two districts leaning Republican, 17 leaning Democratic and 7 falling in the 45-55% competitive range; 10 majority-minority districts and three with two or more incumbents.

The map for the State Senate – essentially undid the Republican gerrymandering of 10, 20 and 30 years ago – cements Democrats hold, currently 43-20 advantage, while the Assembly, which Democrats have controlled for decades, is seeing relatively minor changes to district boundaries, according to Newsday’s Yancey Roy.

“For instance, no longer do all 9 Senate districts contained on Long Island feature a majority of white residents. Two districts, going forward, will be ‘minority majority’ districts. (https://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/new-york-state-legislature-redistricting-1.50499770)

In comparison, Elliott’s analysis shows that under the NYIRC’s Senate A plan (Democratic), 6 districts lean Republican, 44 lean Democratic and 13 fall in the 45-55% competitive range; 24 would be majority-minority districts and 10 with two or more incumbents.

While, under the NYIRC’s Senate B plan (Republican): 6 districts lean Republican, 41 lean Democratic and 16 fall in the 45-55% competitive range; 23 majority-minority districts and nine with two or more incumbents.

Assembly A (Democratic plan) would have 15 districts lean Republican, 96 lean Democratic and 39 falling in the 45-55% competitive range; 55 majority-minority districts, 20 with two or more incumbents.

Assembly B (Republican plan) would have 17 districts lean Republican, 95 lean Democratic and 38 fall in the 45-55% competitive range; 55 majority-minority districts, 20 with two or more incumbents.

But the Republican NYIRC commissioners refused to compromise or support the Democratic map, knowing full well redistricting would then go to the Legislature, where the Democrats had a two-thirds supermajority in both houses, plus the Govrnor, sufficient to pass their own map.

But then, the Republicans knew they could sue to overturn the map, and cry alligator tears over being disenfranchised, to get a Republican-dominated court (the Supreme Court, perhaps, even though, in Rucho v. Common Cause in 2019, the conservative majority gave its blessing to gerrymandering electoral districts to favor entrenched political interests).

And sue they have. I suspect this was NYIRC Republican Chair Jack Martins’ plan all along.

As for the maps the Legislature produced, David Imamura, the Democratic NYIRC Chair, told the New York Times the maps “clearly incorporate” input his panel received in public hearings across the state. “These maps reflect communities of interest across the state. I think New Yorkers will have their communities well represented in the maps the Legislature has come up with.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/nyregion/redistricting-lawsuit-gerrymandering-ny.html)

Long Island probably has the district most salamander-like, with the 3rd District wrapping around the Long Island Sound, from Suffolk through Nassau County, Queens, up to Bronx and Westchester – the new Sound District.

But interestingly, I heard public comments in which these waterfront communities said they had similar interests and should be together.

“The way to stop gerrymandering is if every state in the nation steps up and agrees to stop the partisan drawing,” said Robert Zimmerman, candidate for the new Congressional 3rd district..”You can’t just have some states play by one set of rules and other states not, because if you have some that do, and others that don’t, enormous inequity.”

The response from Republicans was sure, they gerrymandered for 30 years, “but two wrongs don’t make a right.”

That remains to be seen in how the Republicans redistrict Nassau County – despite a new law requiring county lines be drawn so districts are as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts are not drawn with the intent or result of denying equal opportunity of racial or language minority groups to participate in the political process; districts be contiguous; districts are not drawn to favor incumbents or any particular party or candidate, and form to promote orderly and efficient administration of elections.

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