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New York State redistricting process on path for legislative takeover

The Senate and Assembly quickly and overwhelmingly voted

The Senate and Assembly quickly and overwhelmingly voted down maps drawn by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — As widely expected, New York’s redistricting commission deadlocked on party lines Monday and failed to agree on a new set of maps for Congress and the State Legislature.

The outcome sets in motion a process for the State Legislature to take over the notoriously political process, as in most states.

In New York, this means the Democrat-controlled legislature is all but certain to have the opportunity to draw lines to help the party gain congressional seats in November when control of the House of Representatives is up for grabs.

The idea that the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission would unify behind one set of maps always struck some as political theater. So Monday’s result — five Republicans voted for a GOP version of election maps while five Democrats voted for their own — was no surprise.

"We always thought it would" fail, Blair Horner, the New York Public Interest Group’s legislative director, said.

"This was a failed approach," Horner said. "It relied on the two major parties coming to an agreement and it’s just not going to happen."

The redrawing of congressional and state legislative maps is required every 10 years following the latest U.S. Census. It’s done by state legislatures in almost every state. In New York, voters approved in 2014 a constitutional amendment to create a commission to do the work.

But it was fatally flawed from the beginning, Horner said, because lawmakers made the panel bipartisan rather than independent. This meant a deadlocked vote was always the most likely outcome. And the new law authorized the legislature to take charge in case of a deadlock.

Partisan commissioners each blamed the other side for not negotiating a consensus.

"This is an abject failure," Republican commissioner Ross Brady said.

The panel officially submitted both versions to the legislature which, by law, must vote on the panel’s recommendations.

But with no unified map, the legislature could vote down the commission’s work — perhaps as early as next week, two sources said. Technically, the commission would receive back the plans to try again. But, practically speaking, it’s more likely the legislature would take over the mapmaking process.

Aides to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the maps proposed by the commission Monday are under review.

Democrats would need a two-thirds majority vote to approve maps drawn up by the legislature, Horner said — but they already have that in the Senate and Assembly.

The legislature would have to vote on the new maps no later than February to give candidates enough time to qualify for the state primaries in June.

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