The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission submitted dueling plans to both houses of the state Legislature on Monday, failing to avert a partisan deadlock, as time dwindles to redraw New York’s election lines.
The state’s 10-member Independent Redistricting Commission voted Monday to send a pair of competing maps in drawing new congressional, Senate and Assembly district lines mandated after the completion of each decennial census.
Commissioners, with five appointed by Democratic legislative leaders and five appointed by Republican leaders, worked together for many hours over 16 meetings to draft a single plan, but ultimately decided an agreement was impossible — giving Democrats who hold the majority in the Senate and Assembly an advantage to oversee election lines that will be in place for the next decade.
“I believe it was the fervent wish of every commissioner to achieve a single map and we put hundreds of hours into attempting to reach a compromise together,” Commission Chair David Imamura said Monday. “I am proud that during these meetings, we were able to reach a consensus on large parts of the state.”
Plan A, drawn up by Democrats, received five votes by the Democratic appointees, including commissioners Imamura, Eugene Benger, Elaine Frazier, Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina and John Flateau.
Vice Chair Jack Martins, and commissioners Charles Nesbitt, Ross Brady, John Conway III and Willis H. Stephens Jr. voted to submit Plan B.
“We’re left with a choice today between two maps that have been advanced: One clearly partisan map prepared by five members of the commission without any participation by the other side; the other prepared independently and then negotiated bilaterally by the commission through subgroups pursuant to a process that we’ve all agreed to,” Martins said during Monday’s meeting. “I will be voting and supporting the map that reflects the consensus that we all tried to work toward and we nearly achieved. I encourage all of you to do the same thing, in good faith understanding that’s what our charge was.”
Monday’s impasse was not a surprise.
After Thanksgiving, commissioners agreed to a timeline for meetings and process for the line drawers to compile a joint set of maps for the Legislature’s consideration. The meetings and negotiations persisted, incorporating spoken and written testimony from nearly 3,000 New Yorkers, as planned until Dec. 22 — when both groups of commissioners issued separate public statements revealing deep issues reaching a compromise.
Martins said the joint, negotiated map was about 90% complete when Democrats presented their own completed version and ceased discussion.
Democratic appointees said they hoped the map would push Republicans to present a rebuttal proposal and jumpstart negotiations, for which ongoing arguments had run stale.
“There was quite a lot we agreed on — I was optimistic coming out of those discussions,” Imamura said. “What we disagreed on ... that’s where things started to get difficult. It became going around the same issues. We were going in circles.”
Republicans refused to consider the finished plan Democrats completed without them or to issue a counter proposal.
“We chose a different path, refusing to abandon the process we had all agreed to and the resulting substantially completed consensus maps,” Martins, Nesbitt, Stephens, Conway and Brady said in a joint statement Monday. “We chose instead to complete the handful of open items and present the map we had all negotiated, specifically including changes and elements that the democrat appointed commissioners had requested.”
Democratic commissioners said their decision to finish a plan was to advance the process short on time, and were not posed by outside parties or influences.
Commissioners agreed on much of the lines in New York City, Western New York and more, but remained stuck over which communities should remain together in congressional lines in Long Island, Staten Island and Central New York and other issues with Senate districts in the Long Island, the Mid-Hudson Valley and other areas within Syracuse and Rochester.
The dueling maps will each become drafted bills and progress through both houses like any other proposed legislation.
“We’re in the process of reviewing the maps as a conference,” Senate Democrat spokesman Mike Murphy said. “Obviously, speed is important. We want this to move as quickly as possible.”
Legislative leaders sent a letter to the commission last month urging for the maps to be finished expeditiously.
Murphy confirmed the Senate’s receipt of both plans Monday afternoon.
The Assembly will review and discuss the maps separately similar to other legislation. Each plan, or bill, will be brought to each chamber floor for a vote and discussion.
“We will be reviewing the proposals,” Mike Whyland, spokesman with the Assembly Democratic conference, said in a statement.
Assembly Democrats would not answer questions about how the conference will discuss the proposed maps, the timeline of when the plans would be analyzed and who will be involved in the chamber’s talks about the new election lines.
The lines must be in place before the state’s primary scheduled for June 28, but no firm deadline exists for the Legislature to make a decision.
The commission’s plan that receives the most votes is sent to the Legislature. Plan A and Plan B received five votes each, resulting in both sent to the Senate and Assembly on Monday.
The Legislature must approve a plan with a two-thirds majority to be sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign into law or veto. Without the two-thirds majority, the plans are considered rejected.
If the Legislature rejects both plans, the commission has 15 days to submit a new plan, or plans, by Feb. 28.
The deadline for the commission’s involvement in drawing new plans is Feb. 28.
For example, if the Legislature rejects both plans Feb. 20, commissioners will have until Feb. 28 to finish the task.
The state Constitution is not clear about a timeline or the process in the case one house approves or rejects a plan while the other has yet to take it up.
“This is very fluid and unclear,” commission officials said Monday, adding courts have been swift to become involved in the redistricting process in other U.S. states.
Ultimately, the Legislature may be tasked to draw and approve the state’s new elective districts, with Gov. Hochul needing to approve any final plan.
Good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters, Citizens Union and Reinvent Albany sent a letter to the commission Monday criticizing the commission for failing to agree on one set of maps.
“The intended purpose of the IRC was to create an alternative to having district maps drawn by an incumbent, partisan legislature,” state League of Women Voters Executive Director Laura Ladd Bierman said in a statement. “The failure of the Commission to collaborate on and approve a single set of maps constitutes an abdication of the Commission’s responsibilities, confuses the redistricting process and places the interests of New York state voters in fair representation at risk.”
Imamura, Martins and other commissioners thanked each other regardless of the stalemate, and expressed pride in submitting maps to the Legislature.
“I’m proud — proud to have served alongside my fellow commissioners, Democrat, Republican and Independent,” Imamura said.
A HANGING CONGRESSIONAL SEAT
The five Democrat-appointed and five Republican-appointed commissioners disagreed on new district lines for almost every state Assembly and Senate district, and several congressional districts.
The map for a new 22nd Congressional District in Central New York is one of the few areas where the New York Independent Redistricting Commission seemed to reach bipartisan agreement.
This year, New York will lose one of its 27 congressional seats because the state’s population increased at a slower pace than other states.
Each of New York’s new congressional districts must be equally divided to represent a population of 776,971 people.
The commission recommended merging Syracuse, Ithaca and Utica into a single congressional district that could force U.S. Reps. John Katko and Claudia Tenney to face each other in a Republican primary.
Both groups agreed to merge large parts of the 24th Congressional District represented by Katko, R-Camillus, with parts of the 22nd District represented by Tenney, R-New Hartford; establishing a new district that would cover all or parts of Onondaga, Madison, Oneida, Cortland and Tompkins counties in Central New York.
Oswego County, currently split by Katko and Tenney, would be carved into a new 24th District that would also include a part of Cayuga County. All of Cayuga County is currently in Katko’s district.
Still, the parties had their differences: Democrats would omit the towns of Fabius and Pompey and place them in a new part of the 19th District represented by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from Dutchess County.
In the Republican map for the new district, Tenney’s hometown of New Hartford is omitted from the combined district. Instead, New Hartford would be merged into Delgado’s 19th District, setting up a possible election between Tenney and Delgado.
In the past, the state Legislature has lumped all of the Assembly, Senate and congressional maps together when voting on new district lines.
This is the first time that New York has allowed a bipartisan commission to draw new district maps. Voters established an equally divided 10-member commission in a 2014 state ballot referendum, with the goal of taking politics out of the process.
To see the most recent versions of the submitted maps and past drafts, visit nyirc.gov/plans
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.