NEW YORK (AP) — A bipartisan commission tasked with redrawing New York’s congressional districts has until Tuesday to agree on new boundaries — or risk having Democratic lawmakers seize control over a reapportionment process voters hoped would minimize gerrymandering.
The redistricting commission has been mired in partisanship, and many have lost hope it can come up with a bipartisan proposal in its first outing since New York voters established it in 2014.
While Republicans control redistricting across huge swaths of the country, New York is a rare place where Democrats wield extraordinary power over the redrawing of congressional lines. How the state carves out its congressional districts could decide control over the U.S. House.
Even as the Empire State will see its representation in the House drop from 27 to 26 under the latest Census maps, Democrats could potentially gain seats in the New York delegation.
The commission has until the Tuesday deadline to come up with new maps agreeable to state lawmakers, who earlier this month rejected the commission’s most recent proposals. That was expected, considering the commission submitted two sets of plans — one favoring Democrats, and the other Republicans — underscoring deep divides.
It’s unclear whether the commission will submit new maps by Tuesday. But the pressure is on because candidates could be allowed to start collecting signatures by March 1 to run in the June primary.
“The whole thing is frustrating and unfortunate, and it could have been a much better process,” said Steven Romalewski, the director of CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research.
The increasingly likely outcome is that Democratic lawmakers, who have supermajorities in both legislative chambers, will get to draw their own maps — which Republicans charge has always been their rival party’s game plan.
A federal court drew lines the last time around, after the Assembly and state Senate failed to break an impasse over new lines. At the time, Republicans controlled New York’s Senate.
Republicans expect the new maps to land in court yet again.
“They want to slam through a gerrymandered map,” said Nick Langworthy, the state Republican Party chairman. “Some of the geniuses in the Democratic Party in Washington would like to see them strip us down to perhaps two or three seats.”
The stakes couldn’t be any higher. If Republican’s can wrest the gavel from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it would thwart Biden’s policy agenda heading into 2024.
“Pelosi looks to California, Illinois and New York to solve the problems that she has to maintain the gavel,” Langworthy said. “I don’t think that a strategy like that is going to work.”
Democrats hold a 19-8 advantage in the state’s 27-member congressional delegation.
Reps. Tom Reed and John Katko, both upstate Republicans, have said they wouldn’t seek reelection.
Republicans concede that the loss of two incumbents could offset some expected Republican gains elsewhere.
Republicans worry that Democrats could gerrymander their way into gaining as many as four or five seats.
The shift in the state’s population from rural to urban is especially problematic for Republicans. That means the state’s power center is further gravitating toward New York City, a bastion for national liberalism, which saw its population surge 629,000 new residents to 8.8 million.
That could dilute Republican influence in the country’s most populous megapolis and possibly erode GOP control of districts on Long Island and Staten Island.
“There’s many instances where they’ve ignored the input that was given to them during public hearings. They gerrymandered lots of different communities of color seemingly in an attempt to protect incumbents,” said Asher Ross, who directs a redistricting advocacy campaign called “Mapping our Future” for the New York Immigration Coalition.
Ross said Democrats’ attempt to weaken U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican from Staten Island, would come at the expense of a largely Latino and Asian American community in Brooklyn that could wind up in what is now her district.
The Democratic plan would also redraw lines for the district now held by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez. The proposal would cleave Asian American voters in Manhattan’s Chinatown from those in Brooklyn.
The Republican proposal, on the other hand, would preserve the continuity of the Asian American vote in Velazquez’s current district.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are wrangling over where lines should be drawn for the district currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, whose Hudson Valley district is almost evenly split between the parties.
A super PAC called No Surrender NY, which aims to preserve and expand Democratic representation, suggested the Legislature’s supermajority should use the opportunity to push back against the far right.
The PAC urged Democratic lawmakers in the statehouse “to reject a false ‘bipartisan’ framework that demands compromise with the far right ideology of today’s New York Republicans.”
The 2014 voter referendum banned partisan gerrymandering, and said the redistricting maps could not favor or disfavor political parties or candidates.
New Yorkers could file lawsuits arguing the maps are tainted by partisan gerrymandering in state court but would face a high bar, according to New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice.
“It’s very difficult to challenge redistricting plans in New York because courts have provided a lot of deference to state legislatively drawn maps,” Wice said.
Associated Press Writer Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.