The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission will hold a series of preliminary hearings across the state within the next month for New Yorkers to have input in the first draft of its new election district lines.
Eight preliminary virtual public hearings will serve as listening sessions for the 10-member commission tasked with redesignating the state’s congressional and legislative districts. Lines are redrawn once per decade following the completion of the U.S. Census.
“The commission felt we needed to get input from the public before we get the Census data to prepare the draft maps,” Commission Chairman David Imamura said Monday.
The commission will hold a joint hearing for the Mid-Hudson Valley and Capital Region on Aug. 2, and the North Country and Mohawk Valley regions Aug. 5. Sessions for New York City and Long Island counties will occur through the end of July.
Each hearing will begin at 2 p.m. and continue into the evening.
To register to testify, visit nyirc.gov. Hearings will be livestreamed, archived and posted on the commission’s website, which went live within the last week.
Imamura encouraged all New Yorkers to testify or provide information to the commission to help identify communities of interest to keep certain groups of voters in the same district.
“Communities do not have to be cities or towns,” said Imamura, adding they can be community members who belong to the same religious faith or work for the same employer, like a school or hospital.
“Anything that makes your community special or ties it together is information we want to know when we draw district lines,” Imamura continued. “We need your help. We cannot draw lines for respective communities if we do not know where your communities are.”
A person must be a state resident and provide their name and county of residence to testify or provide public input. Staffers will work with each person, who will have three minutes to speak, to schedule their testimony.
Residents who cannot attend or do not wish to speak can submit a written statement, maps or other graphics to commissioners at nyirc.gov.
The first round of preliminary hearings are not constitutionally mandated, but will maximize public participation in the redistricting process and hasten the process for commissioners, who were delayed from starting the new maps because of nearly a year of state funding delays and U.S. Census data delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Required hearings will take place across the state in the fall after draft maps are completed by Sept. 15.
“These hearings are not statutorily or constitutionally required, but they’re important,” Vice Chair commissioner Jack Martins said Monday. “We are the first Independent Redistricting Commission for the state of New York. What we do will set the precedent going forward. ...We’re trying to set the right tone and balance with regards to our responsibility.”
Commissioner John Flateau encouraged New Yorkers on Monday to notify the commission of voting rights issues throughout the state.
Flateau has noted the group needs to be mindful of the five protected classes of voters — Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and Hawaiian or other pacific islander — under the federal Voting Rights Act during public engagement.
The Independent Redistricting Commission will have offices at 250 Broadway in Manhattan and at 302A Washington Ave., in Albany, starting in August.
The preliminary hearings will be held virtually, and do not have to comply with in-person requirements mandated under the state’s Open Meetings Law because no votes or actions will be taken at the initial forums.
Commissioners in January agreed to hold the additional meetings.
“We wanted to get input from the public before we put pen to paper,” Imamura said.
Martins echoed the commission could not do too much public outreach or engagement.
Residents can share visual aids as part of their testimony. Translations services will be available, and a person can indicate needing them on the commission’s website when registering to testify.
To contact the commission or for more information, visit nyirc.gov.