A cyclist rides past the state Court of Appeals in Albany...

A cyclist rides past the state Court of Appeals in Albany on May 5, 2015. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The long-running battle over boundaries for New York’s 26 congressional districts will hit a major milestone Thursday.

A bipartisan redistricting panel plans to unveil and vote on a new map of districts — which could impact not only individual contests on Long Island and across the state, but also the balance of power in Washington.

The Republican co-chairman of the Independent Redistricting Commission said Tuesday it is fair to reason that the 10-member group has reached a majority consensus on the new map, but said it was premature to go into details.

“I would expect that we will have some sort of agreement,” said Charles Nesbitt, the GOP point person and a former state assemblyman. “I’m not in control of the votes, but certainly there is an expectation we’ll leave with a plan in place. I would hope the legislature will approve it, but you never know.”

This marks the latest chapter in New York’s redistricting battle, which has had national implications.

Redistricting is a bare-knuckled process controlled by state legislatures which, following the latest U.S. Census, must adjust congressional boundaries to adjust to population changes. Mapmaking is often done to try to give one party a political advantage.

In New York, the state’s highest court agreed with a Republican lawsuit that said a map drawn in 2022 by the State Legislature constituted an illegal gerrymander to help Democrats. The Court of Appeals ordered a “special master” to draw a new map — which helped Republicans gain seats here and win narrow control of Congress.

A subsequent Democratic lawsuit resulted in the Court of Appeals ruling that the special master’s map was a short-term fix because of the looming election. Citing the state constitution, the court ordered the mapmaking process to begin anew, going through the redistricting panel and State Legislature, and set a Feb. 28 deadline for the commission to propose a new map.

The legislature’s vote likely will hinge on how much tinkering the commission — which isn’t really independent, but a group of five Democratic and five Republican appointees — does with the current map.

“This is in the tea leaves-reading category — it’s anyone’s guess right now,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

There’s a sense a new map can’t but help Democrats at least in a small way. Republicans have said a radical redrawing could spark another gerrymandering lawsuit. Horner and others have said GOP members on the redistricting panel have little incentive for making a deal on maps with Democrats.

Time could be a factor in the outcome.

The petitioning period for candidates to qualify for June congressional primaries is set to begin Feb. 27. If a new map isn’t approved before then, the legislature could be faced with a choice of either moving the primary date or easing some of the petition requirements and deadlines for qualifying, a step taken before in extraordinary circumstances.

Redistricting, petitioning and campaigning are all part of a domino effect, Horner said, which is hard to predict until the first domino falls — and that happens Thursday.

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