NEW YORK — Every 10 years, new boundary lines are drawn to decide congressional, state Senate and state Assembly seats. But this year, a newly formed independent redistricting commission, approved by voters in a referendum in 2014, will draw those lines.
“We are really in uncharted territory because the state has never really been through this kind of process before,” said Jeff Wice of New York Law School.
Uncharted because granular census data was a little late this year. It won’t be available until August, and it’s a shortened timeframe for next year, since the new lines will have to be approved ahead of the June 2022 primaries.
The commission has begun a series of public hearings to gather data, including a virtual one in Queens.
“We look for your input, your comments and recommendations to help guide our work as we go forward," said John Flateau of the NY Independent Redistricting Commission. "Thank you for exercising your civic duty, and thank you for participating in this process.”
The commission will present its first maps in September, and a second set of maps later in the year. Commissioners are scheduled to present their final district lines to the legislature on January 1, but that may not be the last word.
“If the legislature rejects the plan put forward by the commission twice, it’s empowered to draw its own lines," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Research Interest Group. "It’s a little more cumbersome than that. There are weird voting systems in place depending on whether or not one party controls both houses, which it does. You need two thirds majorities for that to happen. But both houses have two thirds Democratic majorities right now.”
Ten years ago, when Republicans controlled the state Senate and Democrats the Assembly, the two parties agreed on lines for legislative districts, but a three-judge panel had to draw congressional districts when the two parties could not agree.
Further complicating matters is that there is another referendum on the ballot this fall asking voters to approve a January 15 deadline for a second set of district maps instead of late February. The lines must be approved by early March so candidates can begin gathering signatures to run in the June primary.