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With control of the New York Senate up for grabs in the upcoming election and the GOP looking to protect a 32-31 majority caucus, will gerrymandered districts help it preserve power?
During a visit with The Point Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Westchester, highlighted her famously stretched and tortured district, the “smiling profile of an old man with a scraggly beard.”
The outline even has a nickname that reflects the district’s inclusion of so many communities: “Yoscar Whiterock Green.” (It incorporates the names of her home city of Yonkers, as well as Scarsdale, White Plains, New Rochelle and Greenburgh.)
Democrats have a better than 2-1 voter registration advantage across New York, and that ratio often holds up in statewide races. It’s not crazy to conclude that fairly drawn districts would give Democrats a 2-1 edge in Senate seats, too — say, 42-21.
But a deeper dive into the numbers suggests two reasons that might not be the case.
First, leaving aside the vote counts of Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who runs as a Democrat but serves as a Republican, only 56 percent (3,748,513) of New Yorkers who cast State Senate ballots in 2016 for a major-party candidate cast them for one who had the Democratic line. And 44 percent (2,969,599) did so for a candidate with the Republican line.
Projected out to the 63-seat body, the voting proportion it suggests is only 35-28, favoring Democrats, but not far off from the party split in the Senate now.
Second, the vote total is deceptive because so many of New York City’s Democratic State Senate votes have little impact in their unusually lopsided races. It would be almost impossible to create a greater Democratic advantage no matter how the new lines would be drawn after the 2020 census. This is because of the tendency of like-minded people to live together in such high concentrations that it dilutes the power of their vote, a political malady Democrats suffer from far more than Republicans. The Democrats’ average margin of victory in the seats they won was 67,222 votes. For the GOP it was 44,303.
There were 24 state Senate races with only one major party candidate in 2016, not including Felder’s: 16 Democratic and eight Republican. Stewart-Cousins told us she has no opponent this year.
And 24 of the Democratic seats are entirely or almost entirely in New York City. The only city seats held by Republicans are Andrew Lanza’s in Staten Island and Martin Golden’s Bay Ridge outpost in Brooklyn.
Stewart-Cousins says if her party takes the chamber, it will look to create a fair, nonpartisan redistricting process — not least because she believes a fair process combined with the party registration imbalance would be more than enough to give Democrats a dominant majority for the future.
Things have escalated since Rep. Lee Zeldin’s campaign sent out an incorrect mailer about absentee ballots. The mailers encouraged voters to postmark their ballots by Nov. 6. That would be one day after the real Nov. 5 deadline.
Zeldin’s campaign says its printer made the error. A similar error occurred in 2016, when Zeldin’s campaign sent out mailers that gave the absentee ballot postmark date one day later than it should have been for that year. The campaign of Zeldin’s Democratic challenger, Perry Gershon, complained Monday that it had heard from young people, presumably Democratic leaning, who had received the mistaken mailers.
Monday night, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow devoted a segment to the mailer issue, comparing Zeldin’s mailer with other Republican actions that seem like attempts to depress voter turnout. “This time we can tell for sure that it wasn’t a mistake,” Maddow said, with her evidence being the unlikelihood that this would happen two cycles in a row.
On Tuesday, Gershon sent a letter to the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, saying, “This is a deliberate targeted strategy of voter suppression by the Zeldin campaign.” Gershon demanded an “immediate investigation,” and said Zeldin should be compelled to reveal who the mailers were sent to.
Caught up yet?
Zeldin’s campaign claims that age and race had no bearing on whom the mailers were sent to, and that less than half went to Democrats. The campaign did not provide a detailed breakdown of party affiliation for the other targets of the mailer, though when asked if the other segment was Republicans, Independence voters, or blanks, spokesman Chris Boyle told The Point it was a combination.
The Point spoke to Scott Nordin, owner of Bohemia-based PDQ Print and Mail, who said his company designed the mailers and that the Zeldin campaign alerted it to the mistaken date before the mailer was sent. But the mistaken date was included multiple times, Nordin said, and his company did not fix all mentions.
“We made a big mistake,” said Nordin, who says his company has done political mailers mostly for Republicans but also Democrats and other parties.
Nordin says revised mailers have been sent to everyone who received the first one.
So both sides are digging in, and don’t hold your breath for an investigation to clear things up soon.
Whole lotto money
All across the country, dreamers are buying Mega Millions tickets in the hopes of cashing in a $1.6 billion ticket. But that $1.6 billion represents only about 50 percent of the money collected for Mega Millions purchases since the jackpot last had a winner on July 24. The other $1.6 billion players paid in goes to the states that run the lottery.
That got the Point — even as editorial board members pooled $2 each so we don’t have to come to work on Wednesday — thinking about all that money and our myriad local governments. How long could a seemingly phenomenal amount of money, $1.6 billion, keep various government entities afloat?
It’s enough to run the:
- Fishers Island school district for 431 years.
- Village of Floral Park for 54 years
- Town of Hempstead for 3.6 years
- Suffolk or Nassau counties for just over six months
- The State of New York for three days and 11 hours
- The United States of America for 3 hours and 11 minutes. (Yes, the U.S. budget is almost exactly 24 times that of the state of New York. Who knew?!)
The state and the nation, of course, don’t have to buy a ticket to win. A Long Islander who wins the $1.6 billion and takes the cash option of $905 million will have to pay the state almost $80 million in income tax, and the federal government about $335 million.
And that Long Islander will be awfully angry at President Donald Trump, because that federal bill will be $30 million higher than it would have been before his tax plan limited state and local tax deductions on federal returns to $10,000 a year.