Every ten years, after the census has concluded, states are required to redraw the lines of state legislative and congressional districts—a process that has historically given the parties in power the ability to shape districts to advantage themselves. Thanks to a state constitutional amendment, passed by New York voters in 2014, the redistricting process has been delegated to an “Independent Redistricting Commission,” which was intended to diminish the degree to which politicians choose their constituents, rather than vice versa.
The ten-member Commission—having had a majority of its members appointed by the Legislature—met this week to begin its work. At that meeting, the members of the Commission were not able to reach consensus on electing a chair, but the constitutional amendment provides the Commission with ample time to conduct its work. The Commission must submit its redistricting plans by January 1, 2022 (with an allowance to submit as late as January 15, 2022, if necessary). If the Legislature rejects the first plan or the governor vetoes it, the Commission must submit a second plan to the Legislature no later than February 28, 2022.
The process of redrawing congressional lines is likely to be particularly challenging: The latest census estimates predict that New York may lose at least one congressional seat and maybe as many as two, particularly if, as feared, the just-completed census may undercount New York’s population. Determining which current members might find themselves in another member’s district always proves to be a difficult determination.