Navigating New York’s redistricting saga

New maps shift political balance


This is the third story in a series exploring the complexities of elections to provide a better understanding of one of Americans’ most precious privileges, the right to vote.

The State Legislature’s approval of the revised congressional district map for New York’s 26 congressional districts has marked a shift in the state’s political landscape. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on the Democratic-drawn map on Feb. 28, and it has tilted the electoral balance in favor of the Democratic Party, especially in key battleground districts.

One notable change involves the North Shore’s 3rd Congressional District, where the newly elected Rep. Tom Suozzi stands to benefit. By replacing GOP-heavy Massapequa with sections of Huntington and Huntington Station, Suozzi’s prospects in this fall’s general election could see a benefit.

But these changes come with consequences for other districts in Nassau County. The 1st and 2nd districts are expected to lean slightly more Republican because of the redistricting process. Although Democrats drafted the new map, it primarily made modest adjustments to existing congressional boundaries.

A dozen Huntington residents told the Herald they didn’t know about the new map, but Michael Berg, a registered voter unaffiliated with either political party, said the changes were justified.

“For whatever reason, it seems that the Republicans have been gerrymandering these lines for as long as I can remember,” Berg said in a phone interview. “The gerrymandering that they do always contorts the lines to make the electoral votes in their favor. It’s about time to get ahold of that so we can have a real election.”

Democrat Cheryl Lynnblum, of Huntington, said she was hoping for a new map that would put her back in the 3rd District. She added that she was uncertain why parts of Huntington were not redistricted.

“I don’t feel like my community belongs to C.D. 1, because we’re much closer to the North Shore of Nassau County than we are to the towns further east,” Lynnblum said. “I don’t feel we have much in common with the Hamptons. We have much more in common with Oyster Bay, Great Neck and Port Washington.”

The current redistricting cycle traces back to 2014, when voters endorsed an amendment to the State constitution aimed at overhauling the redistricting process by transferring the responsibility from the State Legislature to a newly established Independent Redistricting Commission.

After each census, the commission is tasked with drafting new maps of U.S. House, State Senate and Assembly districts, which are then presented to the Legislature for approval. If the commission fails to submit maps by a specified deadline, the Legislature assumes responsibility for drawing them. In 2021, following the 2020 census, the commission embarked on its inaugural map-drawing effort.

But the process encountered significant hurdles. Democratic and Republicans members of the commission failed to reach a consensus on a unified set of maps, and instead released two conflicting versions. So, in February 2022, the Legislature, which was dominated by Democrats, took charge of the process, and drew district maps that Republicans roundly criticized, accusing the Democrats of gerrymandering to favor their party’s candidates.

Democrats defended their actions by arguing that the maps accurately reflected the state’s predominantly Democratic electorate. New York has 6.5 million registered Democrats, 2.8 million unaffiliated voters, or “blanks,” and 2.7 million Republicans.

Following Hochul’s signing of the new maps into law that February, Republicans promptly initiated legal action, filing a lawsuit challenging the maps’ validity.

Over the subsequent weeks, a Steuben County judge heard both sides’ arguments, and on March 31, 2022, the judge ruled against the Democratic-drawn maps.

Democrats took the matter to the state Court of Appeals, a seven-member panel entirely appointed by Democratic governors. That April, the court voted 4-3 to invalidate the Democratic-drawn maps, citing procedural unconstitutionality and asserting that they had been drawn with impermissibly partisan bias. Consequently, the court appointed a special master to craft new district lines, a scenario similar to New York’s 2012 redistricting cycle.

In May 2022, the special master unveiled his final version of the maps. The upheaval in the redistricting process significantly disrupted primary races for Congress, which were just two months away. The consequences of the confusion were evident in the general election that November.

While Republicans nationwide secured victories in the House of Representatives, their performance was relatively lackluster. In New York, however, the GOP experienced remarkable success, winning five of the state’s six competitive House races. Republicans flipped four seats previously held by Democrats, including that of Sean Patrick Maloney, the House Democrats’ campaign chief.

Given the GOP’s five-seat majority in the House, those four flipped seats played a pivotal role in shaping the current political landscape in Washington. Just three months after the rejection of the Democratic-drawn maps by the state Court of Appeals, its chief judge, Janet DiFiore, stepped down from the bench. DiFiore, who authored the majority opinion in the case, had drawn criticism from the state’s progressives.

Reflecting similar sentiments, Democrats in the State Senate rejected Hochul’s initial nominee to succeed DiFiore, citing concerns over his perceived conservatism. Hochul eventually nominated Rowan Wilson, an associate justice of the court who had opposed the court’s decision in the redistricting case. In April 2023, Wilson’s nomination was confirmed.

That same month, a group of voters initiated a challenge against the congressional maps crafted by the special master a year earlier. They contended that the existing lines should not be kept until 2030, the next census year, and insisted that the Independent Redistricting Commission had ample time to develop new maps, using the process outlined in the State Constitution.

Last December, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the commission could have another opportunity to draw the state’s district lines, setting a deadline of Feb. 28, 2024.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and Hochul released a shared statement after the ruling, saying the decision “will ensure all New Yorkers are fairly and equitably represented by elected officials. District lines should be drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission. We will continue our efforts to protect voting rights for all New Yorkers.”