ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Proposed political maps released by the leaders of New York’s Democrat-dominated legislature would give the party an advantage in 22 of of the state’s 26 congressional districts and mean reelection trouble for several Republican members of the U.S. House.
The new maps, released late Sunday, could potentially lead to Democrats picking up three House seats and Republicans losing four in the 2022 election.
Lawmakers expect to vote Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, on new congressional and legislative maps as part of the nation’s once-per-decade redistricting process. The Legislature faces pressure with candidates preparing for petition-gathering season launching March 1.
New York faces the loss of one House seat in 2023, due to slow population growth. Republicans had braced for Democrats — who represent about half of registered voters to Republicans 22% — to use their dominating legislative supermajorities to redraw district boundaries to carve up GOP strongholds.
The new maps would do that, forcing several incumbent Republicans to run in districts redrawn to make them far more Democrat-friendly.
In New York City, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican, would face running in a district stretched to include some of Brooklyn’s most liberal neighborhoods, including the home of the city’s former Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On Long Island, the realignment would lump two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Andrew Garbarino and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, into the same district. Much of the territory now represented by gubernatorial candidate Zeldin would shift to a more Democrat-friendly district stretching from the Hamptons to suburbs closer to New York City.
Republicans said Democrats will face backlash from voters for going too far: Zeldin called it Democrats’ latest “power grab” amid “one-party rule.”
“They know Congresswoman Malliotakis is popular and they can’t beat her on the merits or public policy, so they are changing the boundaries to tilt the scale,” Malliotakis campaign spokesman Rob Ryan said.
A Long Island district held by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi — a Democratic gubernatorial candidate — would grow more Democrat-friendly by spanning five counties from Suffolk to Westchester.
The upstate realignment would create three GOP super districts — one of them now home to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican — but make it tough for Republicans to win elsewhere upstate. U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs’ district in western New York would grow U-shaped to include swaths of North Country, and his current home would be just outside its boundaries.
The maps would spread the central district that U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney won narrowly in 2020 among several districts. Tenney herself would live in a Democrat-friendly district sweeping from the Hudson Valley, up to Albany and west to Binghamton and Utica. The Republican slammed the maps as “partisan gerrymandering” Monday and said she’ll run in the new district, now represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado.
In part, the maps reflect population shifts. New York City, where Democrats dominate, gained 629,000 people in the 2020 Census, while rural upstate areas home to many Republicans saw populations shrink and shift to cities.
Currently, Republicans hold 8 of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.
New York has gained national prominence as one of just a few states where Democrats hope to use map-drawing power to offset significant gains that Republicans expect to make elsewhere in the battle for control of the U.S. House.
Voters in 2014 launched a bipartisan commission that — in theory — should have developed New York’s maps.
Republicans fared much better under draft maps offered by Democrats and Republicans.
But the commission’s Republicans and Democrats — predictably — couldn’t come to consensus, leaving lawmakers free to come up with their own maps.
The maps will likely face legal challenges following legislative approval. In Ohio, aggrieved groups have persuaded courts to toss heavily gerrymandered political maps.
State GOP chair Nick Langworthy said Republicans will review legal options: “For all of their phony protestations about transparency and fairness in elections, what they’re doing is textbook filthy, partisan gerrymandering that is clearly in violation of the New York State Constitution.”
Voters amended New York’s constitution in 2014 to ban partisan gerrymandering, stating: “Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”
Courts will decide how to define unfair gerrymandering.
Some boundaries appear more convoluted: Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s meandering Upper West Side and Brooklyn district would grow more S-shaped by twisting through Prospect Heights.
But a political district’s “weird” shape alone doesn’t prove gerrymandering, Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault said.
“It could be people of similar economic class, it could be people of similar ethnicity together,” he said.
New York’s maps have a good chance of holding up in court, according to New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice.
“It reflects population changes and the loss of a congressional district that had to take place,” he said. “It’s natural the losses and shifts have to occur upstate.”
“Any challenges probably could not stop the maps from being used this year,” Wice said.
Meanwhile, Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner called for public hearings on maps she called a “major disservice to the voters.”
“The Legislature’s proposed congressional maps preserve the Voting Rights Act districts, but the rest of the lines are so heavily gerrymandered they will be non-competitive,” she said.
This story was first published Jan. 31, 2022. It was updated Feb. 1, 2022, to correct that Rep. Jacobs would not have to move to run. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require members of the House to live in the districts they represent.