EDITORIAL

How to avoid another district map debacle

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New York state’s 2022 primary season is now officially a debacle. Due to a state appeals court ruling, candidates running for state senate and congressional seats don’t know what district they could represent, and the voters don’t know what district they live in.

Some candidates, including state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi — who is running for Congress — don’t know what U.S. House district they ultimately will run for.

The same can be said for Biaggi’s current senate district where four Democrats are vying for what is still expected to be a vacant seat.

The new congressional map, which was approved by Gov. Kathy Hochul in February, created 20 Democratic-leaning and four Republican-leaning seats. Two other seats would be competitive, though tilted Democratic.

New York’s delegation is currently made up of 19 Democrats and eight Republicans.

The state is losing a seat during this redistricting cycle, thanks to the census.

What has happened so far is that the date for the statewide primary has changed from next month to Aug. 23. And the decision of creating revised maps for both U.S. House and state senate districts is up to a special master — Jonathan Cervas, a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy. The court has ordered him to hold a hearing May 6, submit a proposed map by May 16, and a final congressional map to the court by May 24.

A similar schedule is expected for the state senate map.

So, there are questions for which voters need answers: How did we get here? What does it mean? How could this situation have been avoided?

It could be called a political “perfect storm” of sorts as Gov. Kathy Hochul — only months in office — being called to sign off on redrawn congressional and state office district maps.

The first problem was that the new Independent Redistricting Commission — put into place by a 2014 state constitutional amendment — was deadlocked and had to propose competing maps for  Congress, the state senate and Assembly.

That meant the different plans had to be voted on by the legislature separately.

The governor signed a plan that favored the Democrats more over the Republicans, in the minds of both a state supreme court and an appeals court.

New York has joined a group of seven states — mostly Republican — whose redrawn congressional maps have been invalidated by state courts in the 2022 midterm election cycle. (This has been the trend since the U.S. Supreme Court kicked oversight of redistricting to the states in 2019.)

On the congressional side, in addition to New York, those accused of gerrymandering are: Maryland (Democrat) and the five Republican-led states of North Carolina, Ohio, Kansas, Alaska and Tennessee.

Bottom line is that in New York, the Democrats were snookered by the GOP, which created chaos for the midterms.

The Republicans banked on the Democrats in New York trying to gerrymander the district map to secure as many U.S. House seats needed to hold onto the party’s slim majority. So they sued at just the right time in state court, and took advantage of a trend that has cost their party in GOP-led states.

And voila, they have created chaos among not only candidates, but among voters, causing them to vote in the summer during vacation season.

Simply put, Gov. Hochul had the power to send the dual map plans back to the commission until they agreed on one map that has bipartisan support. But we all know how nearly impossible that task is in our country since it is so politically polarized.

Or she could have replaced the members of the commission, possibly choosing truly independent members like the special master who is going to ultimately decide the future of the district maps for the next 10 years.

In New York’s case, this debacle lies at the feet of the new governor. It comes across that as leader of her party, she looked more at the short-term goal of keeping a majority in the U.S. House than looking at the long-term effects of creating districts that favor her party.

In the end, the governor did not follow the spirit of the amendment approved by voters to create fair and equal districts that are not prone to gerrymandering.

And she failed.

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