Gerrymander This!: The Three New York State Redistricting Stories to Watch

Updated: August 4, 2011 at 06:00 AM

Every 10 years, following the release of new census data, congressional seats are reapportioned  based on changes in population.  And that’s where the political fun begins.

Thursday, the panel charged with putting together a redistricting plan for the 2012 election will host a hearing in Albany. Check out our redistricting redux below for a primer.

New York state is currently divided into 29 congressional districts, but in the last decade the state's population growth slowed so New York is losing two seats in the Assembly.

The latest census figures show that New York state’s population growth slowed in the last decade, and as a result the state is losing two seats in the House. Under New York state law, each voting district population must be within 5 percent of the average district size, which is calculated by dividing New York’s total population by the number of Senate and House districts, give or take 5 percent. The redistricting process is designed to equally distribute political power and services among different communities — but lawmakers employ increasingly complex methods of gerrymandering to keep their constituents’ voting strength at the same level it was before redistricting.

Here are the three stories to watch:

As a result of the state’s population slowdown, the number of New York’s House seats will shrink from 29 to 27. Many House members are anxious about whether their district could be eliminated, reported the New York Times. It’s still uncertain which House member’s district the Republicans are most strongly considering eliminating.

“Friends turn against friends, and parties turn against their own,” said Republican Representative Peter King about the redistricting process, reported the New York Times. “It’s not something anyone looks forward to. Now that people are beginning to focus on it, we can expect some tough days ahead.”

Representative Gary Ackerman acknowledged said carving up Anthony Weiner's district makes the most sense for Democrats. Ackerman expects to benefit from that strategy -- part of the complex redistricting process. AP/Amos Ben Gershom.

For Democrats, deciding which district to eliminate is fairly evident, according to Rep. Gary Ackerman. The Democrats are poised to carve up the district which belonged to former Rep. Anthony Weiner — who resigned from office last June over an embarrassing “sexting” scandal.

“The Weiner option solves the entire downstate and Democratic problem and shifts the focus to upstate for a Republican contribution of a seat,” added Ackerman.

Call it prisonmandering. Last year, a Democrat-controlled state government passed a law to end the long-held practice of prison gerrymandering, which involves  counting inmates as residents of the district where they are incarcerated. The majority of New York’s prisons are located upstate, in historically Republican communities — in the past, prison gerrymandering helped less-populated districts meet the population threshold, even though prisoners can’t vote. Several Republican State Senators sued to repeal the law. The case is ongoing, but the six-memberLegislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR)has chosen to break the law by continuing to count prisoners in the voting districts where they are incarcerated, the New York Times reports. On Thursday, the Albany panel developing a redistricting plan will hold a hearing about whether prisoners should be counted in the districts where they currently live or where they’re from, reported Politics on the Hudson.

Governor Andrew Cuomo. Democrats expect the governor to veto forthcoming congressional maps that violate the new prison redistricting law. Flickr/patja.

Long Island power-grab?. Census data indicated a movement of largely Democratic-voting minority groups moving away from New York City to suburban Long Island. In May, Nassau County Republicans pushed a redistricting plan to create a new minority-majority district map that Democrats said was a “preemptive power grab.” In May, a State Supreme Court judge put a restraining order on the legislature’s ability to vote on the new plan, the Long Island Herald reports. Then in July, a State Supreme Court judge sided with Nassau County and banned any redistricting plan until 2013, Newsday reports.

Suffolk’s noble experiment: non-partisanship. In an attempt to preemptively negate the ugly redistricting battles happening in Nassau and upstate, the Suffolk County Legislature has created the brand new Suffolk County Reapportionment Commission — the first non-partisan redistricting entity in New York state history.  One Democrat and one Republican lead the eight-member commission, which is composed of four retired judges, two voter’s rights representatives and two members of minority organizations. Suffolk County hopes the Commission will create fair, gerrymandering-free districts that will ultimately lead to greater equality and less minority disenfranchisement  in election season. They will approve their final redistricting plan on February 1, 2012, according to Long Island Politics.


Click here for a closer look at New York’s Representatives Congressional District Map.

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