Making Democracy Work: Understanding Redistricting in 2022
By Lisa Scott
For voters in New York State in 2022, redistricting is controversial, complex and changing.
Gerrymandering is the intentional distortion of political constituencies to give advantage to one party. For decades in most states, the majority party in the state legislature drew maps for congressional and state legislature districts that would cement that party’s power for 10 years (until the next census). Nationally, gerrymandering has been criticized for disenfranchising many voters and fueling deeper polarization.
In New York State, voters approved a constitution in 2014 amendment that established an independent redistricting commission beginning with the 2020 census. This amendment was billed as a way to create equitable districts for the Congress, Senate, and State Assembly, keeping communities together and representation in minority areas to give everyone a fairer voice through their elected representatives. At the time, good government groups were divided on the wording of the amendment and its potential effect…either a “step in the right direction” or a “bogus reform”.
In 2021, the newly formed NYS Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) traveled throughout New York State to hold numerous public hearings to gather input on the map lines the commission would draw. Unfortunately, the IRC was split equally along partisan lines, and Republican and Democratic commissioners each submitted their own maps to the state legislature and were unable to submit the single plan required by the amendment. .
This failure of the IRC has returned the mapping of districts to the hands of the legislature (both the senate and the assembly have Democratic supermajorities) and the final constituency lines of the legislature in 2022 have resulted in more districts with strong Democratic-leaning voters. The Republicans then filed a lawsuit in Steuben County (upstate New York) that threw the 2022 NYS election calendar into potential chaos as it moved through the justice system.
A judge has ruled to allow this year’s maps/elections to go ahead as scheduled, but if the Republicans win the lawsuit, it looks like there will be a new election for the NYS Senate and Assembly in 2023 with new district maps. This would result in state legislative elections in three consecutive years – 2022, 2023 and 2024.
There has been concern and controversy over the Congress Lines in Suffolk (CD 1, 2 and 3) the boundaries of which have changed significantly. Some elected legislators no longer live in their constituency, and there has been “packing” (concentration of the opposing party’s voting power in one constituency to reduce its voting power in other constituencies) and “cracking” (dilution of voting power of opposing party supporters in many neighborhoods). The cracking was most evident regarding the city of Smithtown, which is split between 3 congressional districts, and the community of Gordon Heights, which lacks the single representative they advocated in numerous public hearings in 2021.
Although the next Suffolk County legislative election will not take place until 2023, the redistricting for the SC legislature is also mired in controversy. Lawmakers from both parties did not appoint representatives to a county redistricting commission in 2021, so the Democratic majority drew maps and passed legislation to create the new districts.
Lawsuits were filed and the county executive Bellona vetoed the bill in early 2022. A new independent/bipartisan redistricting commission is expected to begin work in April 2022. Remember your current Suffolk County legislator will represent you until January 1, 2024 Once Suffolk’s legislative maps are drawn and approved, voting in the primaries and general election for these seats will take place in 2023 (not this year).
The bottom line for Suffolk County voters? Find your new Congressional and State Assembly and Senate districts at https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org. Voting in your new district takes effect with the 2022 primaries and general elections. However, your current representative in Congress and the state legislature will represent you until January 1, 2023.
As you can see, the redistricting after the 2020 census has become controversial, complex and changing. Today’s “rules” can be overridden by court decisions. Dates may change. Neighborhoods can be redesigned. Or nothing will change until 2030!
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes informed and active citizen participation in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.