The new boundaries for state Senate and Assembly districts proposed by New York’s legislative redistricting task force would increase the number of seats held by the majority parties in both chambers, an analysis by The New York World has found.
In the closely contested State Senate, the Republican Party’s precarious 32-to-30 majority would expand to 34-to-29 if each voter cast his or her ballot in support of the same party as in the 2010 elections.
In the State Assembly, the comfortable 98-to-50 advantage the Democrats enjoyed following 2010’s elections would also increase, to 102-to-48.
“You can’t put a good face on this,” said Douglas Muzzio, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and an expert in New York State politics. “It gives real empirical weight to the argument that there is total partisanship in redistricting.”
The appointees to the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting and Reapportionment, or LATFOR, pay close attention to results in past races. To get an idea of what the New York State map looked like from the point of view of state Republicans, who controlled redistricting in the Senate, and the Democrats who oversaw Assembly redistricting, The New York World and the nonpartisan Center for Urban Research remapped the results of the 2010 state legislative elections onto the new lines proposed by LATFOR. (See “How we replayed the 2010 races.”) What emerges is a picture of partisan gains on both sides.
John McEneny (D-Albany), the LATFOR co-chair in charge of the Democratic-led redistricting of the Assembly, said the task force’s primary considerations were following the New York State constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act, and keeping communities together. He said the task force’s goal was not to pad partisan majorities, but acknowledged that it was aware of voter turnout data.
“A goal was certainly not to harm the majority,” McEneny said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the majority drew it if the majority did just as well or better.”
LATFOR is currently holding public hearings to consider revisions to its proposal. The final version will be submitted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to meet either his signature or his veto.
The changes with the highest political stakes are in the State Senate, in which redistricting is controlled by the Republican Party as it clings to a bare majority of 32 seats. LATFOR’s proposal is poised to expand the GOP caucus to 34 seats by creating an additional Senate seat that leans Republican, and by changing the composition of the 37th Senate district in Westchester, currently represented by Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck), to favor a Republican candidate.
In 2010, Oppenheimer defeated Republican Bob Cohen by approximately 600 votes in a race so close that it was only decided after a lengthy recount. In the reconfigured 37th district proposed by LATFOR, a Republican would win in 2012 by more than 6,000 votes if each voter selected the candidate from the same major party whose nominee they backed in 2010.
Susan Lerner, executive director of the reform group Common Cause, said her staff was also analyzing voter turnout results and had been struck by their findings in the 37th district. “They are tracing on a street-by-street basis to find Republicans and Conservatives to stuff into that district,” Lerner said.
In January, Oppenheimer announced that she would not run for re-election.
LATFOR has also proposed an additional Senate district that is largely based in Albany County. The Times Union reported in January that the new seat, Senate District 46, was designed by GOP leaders to facilitate a Senate run by Assemblyman George Amedore (R-Rotterdam). Republicans have said that the district would have more enrolled Democrats than Republicans, but 2010 election results indicate that a Republican candidate would have won the proposed new district by a comfortable margin of more than 24,000 votes.
On Feb. 9, Amedore announced the creation of an exploratory committee to run for Senate in the 46th district.
To be sure, no district votes the exactly the same way in consecutive elections: the quality of candidates, changes in the population and the national political climate (which in 2010 favored Republicans) all play important roles. But voting behavior in previous elections offers the best available indication as to how a district is likely to perform.
Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said that LATFOR’s maps were drawn to comply with federal and state law, and changes were based on population shifts over the past decade. He noted that the lines were a first draft and the process was still ongoing.
“We expect there to be some changes to these lines,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto any maps that he considers partisan, and has said that the current proposal by LATFOR fails this test. “The lines as they are currently drawn are unacceptable and would be vetoed by the governor,” said Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing.
Muzzio, the professor and political analyst, described the process as a “choreography” in which the task force likely has a second, less controversial set of maps in waiting. These maps could address some of Cuomo’s concerns, allowing him to save face without issuing a veto, while preserving some of the changes the majority parties wish to make. Muzzio said the governor has a weak hand because a veto could force a chaotic battle in court, while the new lines must be approved in time for primaries in June.
“The majorities in both houses’ strategy are not only drawing lines that are going to help them win, but also drawing out the process,” Muzzio said.
Hearings on LATFOR’s current proposals will continue through February 16, and while revised maps are expected no date has yet been set for their release.