New Congressional districts outlined in a bill drafted by the Democratic-led...

New Congressional districts outlined in a bill drafted by the Democratic-led State Legislature this week. Mapping data provided by Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.

This week’s pre-primary rush in Albany to approve a new congressional district map offers a unique moment to notice how bipartisan redistricting reform descended in recent years into a fierce, chaotic drama that’s finally on the cusp of a resolution.

Ten years ago, voters approved adding both an “independent redistricting” commission and legal protections against gerrymandering to the state constitution. In 2022, the amended process got its first test. The product did not work as hoped, or as advertised.

First, Democrats who dominate both legislative houses jumped the gun after a deadlock on the newly appointed bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission. They dramatically rewrote the lines in a way the courts later found, with reason, to be blatantly unconstitutional. Judges had a special master draw a new, better-balanced map. On Election Day, the Democrats lost several crucial New York seats, helping the Republicans capture a House majority.

Afterward, the national Democratic Party refused to let their losses lie. In Albany, party leaders effectively installed a top court they saw as dependable for their own redistricting goals. They legally won a do-over — which was especially remarkable since this is supposed to be a once-in-10-years process. This week, the party’s majority rejected a perfectly proper IRC-drawn map — one that would have left intact all four Long Island districts, which the GOP swept convincingly two years ago. Democrats have edited that version, to better suit their electoral aims.

But for those sick of redistricting chaos, there was a bright spot. After their last self-inflicted 2022 disaster, the lawsuit-shy Democratic majorities proceeded this time with far more caution. The Long Island changes modify, very slightly, the districts now represented by Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republicans Andrew Garbarino and Nick LaLota. These lines are a world away from the contrivances of 2022 when Democrats supported a multicounty Third Congressional District oddly centered in Long Island Sound.

The U.S. is in a unique state of national partisan warfare that inspires state party leaders to seek legal advantages ever more aggressively. In New York, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, the leader of House Democrats, has a very obvious and very personal interest in going from minority leader to speaker next January. Prodding his allies in the Assembly and State Senate over the lines became one weapon in Jeffries' electoral arsenal.

What happens after November? The state should take a break from partisan ferment and once again seek to establish a system that better assures sensible and fair district lines. Lawmakers of both major parties still need to find more ways to properly conduct redistricting. Perhaps that means a more empowered independent commission like California's. 

Alert voters want to know that they live in legislative districts that are well drawn and make sense and won't change with the party expediencies of the next election. Redistricting reform is still worth the effort.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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