True, we do this every 10 years. But at a moment of heightened hostility between the national parties, the regular redistricting scramble happens to be taking a whole new shape in New York. Borders and demands of the traditional battlefield have changed.
Drama and suspense, to be embedded in detailed maps and minutiae, play out in slow motion, like any other tension-filled government process.
Two big redistricting changes have gelled since 2011. For one, voters have made New York into what politicos call a "trifecta" state. That's what they call it when one party controls both houses of the State Legislature and the governorship. For another, the drawing is guided by a first-ever independent, or actually bipartisan, commission.
Nobody expects the 10-year maps that take effect starting with next year’s elections to be created with divine objectivity. The overwhelming Democratic majorities of the State Senate and Assembly retain approval power over the balanced commission’s work.
How much of the Democrats' collective craftsmanship in this state will go toward helping U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her uphill battle to keep a Democratic majority?
Mapmakers have the power to minimize the number of Congressional seats Republicans can expect to win. Then again, state party players don't always focus on Washington D.C., just as county and local players don't always fret about the balance of power in Albany.
Right now, there's a mood. Factional loyalty is all the fashion.
Pelosi will need all the help she can get clinging to an elected majority that now stands at 222-213.
Several GOP-controlled states are gaining seats due to the Census count. (New York is losing one.) And, as summarized recently in the Cook Political Report, lines for 187 of the 435 House seats are controlled directly by Republicans, only 75 by Democrats.
Another 121 districts are crafted by independent or bipartisan commissions. The lines for 46 seats are drawn by divided-party governments The other six seats cover entire states and are not redrawn.
New York Democrats know they can help Pelosi, and by extension President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, if district lines reduce the number of Republicans in the Congressional delegation from the current eight.
But hold on. Since we have an independent commission, New York's stated goal is nonpartisan line-drawing. That calls for a fair drafting of districts where the chips of the voter fall where they may.
So here's a key question: Do standards of independence and fairness allow for, say, stretching Long Island Congressional districts from east to west in a way that maximizes Democratic advantage?
We’re months away from knowing how the tension plays out between Democratic domination and bipartisan goals. The commission releases the first proposed maps in September. Democrats in Albany are expected to protect their supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate. A still-obscure constitutional amendment on the November ballot could further bolster the majority's redistricting powers.
Gerrymandering has long been a way of bipartisan life — at times spectacular in this state. There have been legislative districts that extended north-south from the southern tier to the Canadian border. One had its very center in New York Harbor.
Early in the 20th century, Suffolk County and Staten Island were written into the same State Senate district. At least there's no sign of that absurdity making a comeback, which is progress of sorts.
Dan Janison is a member of Newsday's editorial board.