The number of New York seats in the House of Representatives has been declining for seven decades, and the fear is the state may lose as many as three congressional seats after the 2020 Census — probably one on Long Island. The delegation is 27 seats, down two after the 2010 census.
And that was before President Donald Trump’s memorandum Tuesday, saying that people living here without legal status should not be counted.
While Trump’s order is likely to be struck down in federal court, Albany lawmakers have their own plans about whom to count with the likely result being increased city population and political clout over the suburbs and upstate.
Their vehicle is an amendment to the state constitution to update the already-dated overhaul of 2014. It’s needed because the timeline for when new Assembly, Senate and congressional district lines must be drawn accelerated once the state moved its primary to June instead of September.
But like everything else in Albany, a few little extras were thrown into the mix. The first is adding to the constitution, instead of just by state law, the requirement that those in state prisons be counted at their home addresses rather than the upstate communities where most of the facilities are located.
The second is reducing from 67% to 60% the majority needed to approve the newly-drawn lines. While Democrats are expected to control the Assembly for some time, the Senate majority could shift. If Democrats remain in control of the chamber after this fall’s elections, using the 60% number means they can approve new maps that would likely be drawn to keep them in power for the foreseeable future. Needing a few GOP votes to approve the maps could wrestle some measure of balance to where the lines go.
And then, how do you count the residents that Trump doesn’t want counted? If the State Legislature determines that the Census doesn’t provide an accurate tally of those here without legal status, the new provisions would allow the state to do its own count. While Long Island has a substantial number of residents who fall into that category, the overall numbers are expected to favor New York City. That means more state legislative seats in the five boroughs than other areas of the state.
While state legislative lines can probably be drawn using state-modified Census numbers, whether federal congressional seats can be drawn up that way is a lawsuit waiting to happen. But if it is legal, then Long Island’s dwindling districts would further stretch to the west.
The joint resolution enshrining these changes is likely to be voted on this week. It needs to be passed once in this session and then a second time, probably early next year at the start of a new session. The final step would be presenting it for voter approval on the 2021 general election ballot.