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Confusion abounds on NY State redistricting plans

by WayneTimes.com
April 23, 2022

In a classic ‘Who’s on First?’ and ‘Just what are the state and federal district boundaries?’, political parties and candidates are scratching their heads.

Did New York’s Democratic-led Legislature unconstitutionally pass new maps setting congressional district boundaries for the next decade? That’s among the questions before a panel of five mid-level appellate judges, who began hearing arguments Wednesday (4/20).

As of April 20th the redistricting of the Congressional, State Senate and Assembly Districts were in limbo - stuck between a Steuben County Republican State Judge’s overturning of re-districted  maps as unconstitutional  -  and a Democratic appeal.

A group of Republican voters say the maps are indeed gerrymandered, and have filed a lawsuit in state court asking to have the maps tossed out and to delay the June congressional primaries until late August. They say this would give the state enough time to draw up new maps.

Democrats’ attorneys say the maps are more than fair to Republicans, who lost their decades-long control of the state Senate in 2018 but have won some swing districts. Democrats say the new maps protect minority voting rights and reflect population loss in upstate communities once considered Republican strongholds.

Republicans represent about 22% of registered New York voters, and currently hold eight of the state’s 27 seats in Congress. But New York now gets one less seat following the 2020 Census, and the new maps would give Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.

The GOP lawsuit cites computer simulations by election analyst Sean Trende, who found the maps were gerrymandered.

“It’s every good government group – left, right and center _ saying this,’’ said their attorney, Bennet Moskowitz.

Attorney Alice Reiter, representing the state Senate, said the GOP voters don’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Democrats gerrymandered the maps. She called Trende’s analysis flawed and said no courts have ever tossed out maps based on computer simulations.

“I think that the process was along partisan lines, but that is a far cry from any proof that it was partisan intended,’’ she said.

Democrats also say there isn’t enough time to change the maps for 2022 races, and say the judges should toss the lawsuit because it doesn’t include voters in all districts statewide.

A lower-court judge declared last month that New York’s new maps were drawn up unconstitutionally and ordered the legislature to quickly redraw them. The judge said the congressional maps specifically were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and said the legislative maps should also be tossed because lawmakers exceeded their authority when they passed them.

Attorneys for the state Senate, Assembly and Gov. Kathy Hochul appealed the lower-court ruling and said the judge was wrongly limiting the Legislature’s power.

An appeals judge this month allowed the lower court judge to hire an expert to draw up alternative congressional district maps in case the disputed ones ultimately get tossed.

That overturning of the maps by two judges and the appeals court, rejected the congressional re-districting and new maps for State Senate and Assembly calling it gerrymandering with high political bias. 

Congressman Lee Zelden, the Republican/Conservative designated candidate for Governor, issued the following statements:  

“Kathy Hochul and her fellow Democrats controlling Albany ignored the law and the will of the people when they created the most hyper-partisan gerrymander imaginable. That’s unconstitutional in New York and today an appeals court agreed that the Congressional map needs to be redrawn. As a State Senator, I was part of the successful effort to create an independent redistricting commission in New York. Kathy Hochul helped ensure this entire process went sideways in violation of the state constitution. These maps should be tossed.”

As of today, the Republican Primary is still precariously set for June 28th, but with such a short time frame, the call for new maps may not be heeded until next year. The alternative is to move the Primary election until August. No one is claiming this will happen. Most politicians on both sides are resigned to the fact that this primary and election cycle will proceed with the newly drawn districts and next year the issue will be revisited.  

Late last week, the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization, filed an amicus brief with the court supporting them and the state Supreme Court ruling that the Independent Redistricting Commission violated the state constitution by failing to submit two sets of maps to the Legislature.

 “If the courts agree with the League of Women Voters and the petitioners, that would mean that that special master’s going to wind up drawing the lines not just for the  U.S. House but for the state Senate and the state Assembly,” said Former U.S. Rep. John Faso, an advisor to the Republican petitioners that brought the lawsuit.

So far this election cycle, courts have intervened to block maps they found to be Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. Such decisions have led to delayed primaries in North Carolina, Ohio and Maryland.

The panel of judges in New York is considering several key questions, including whether the congressional map is gerrymandered, whether the Legislature overstepped its authority in drawing up the maps, and whether the Republican voters have the standing to sue over the maps in the first place. It’s unclear if the judges will release a decision following Wednesday’s live-streamed oral arguments in Rochester.

As for those who are now set to appear on the June 28th Republican Primary Ballot locally, the following  candidates have filed their required signatures by petition to challenge. In the Wayne County elections, Republican-endorsed candidate for Wayne County Judge Michele Villani of Walworth will be challenged by Attorney/Arcadia Town Judge Art Williams of Newark. The other Republican-designated candidates in Wayne County (Patrick Schmitt for Treasurer and Phil Petine for Coroner) will be on the November ballot with no challenge from their party in the primary.

On the State level, incumbent Republican Senator Pam Helming will not face a primary challenge in the 54th Senate District, although her district has been altered by redistricting. It still includes Wayne County.

 Republican Brian Manktelow is the incumbent in the 130th Assembly District and is also not being challenged in his party. His district is also redrawn and eliminates Oswego County, but adds Webster. 

On the Federal level, the 24th Congressional seat, now redrawn to include counties from the Buffalo area to the St. Lawrence seaway, will have Representative Chris Jacobs (formerly of the 27th Congressional District) challenged for the seat by Geneva attorney Mario Fratto, following petitions duly filed last week. 

Story by By Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press and Times of Wayne County reporter, Patti Holdraker

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