The panel tasked with redrawing New York's congressional and state legislative district lines will release its first draft maps next week.
The New York Independent Redistricting Commission will meet Wednesday to unveil the draft lines. That will kick off a series of public hearings across the state to gather feedback on the maps. After the meetings, the commission will finalize its proposed maps to submit to the state Legislature for consideration.
David Imamura, who chairs the commission, said Thursday that Redistricting Partners, a California-based consulting firm, has been retained to assist the commission during the redistricting process. According to its website, Redistricting Partners has experience redrawing lines for cities, counties and school districts. Its clients include San Bernardino and Santa Clara counties, which are among the largest counties in California.
Redistricting Partners also hired Redistricting Insights, another California-based firm, as a subvendor, according to Imamura.
The release of the draft maps is a milestone in the redistricting process. The commission planned to unveil the draft lines in mid-September after the release of census data in August.
The U.S. Census Bureau released its redistricting data that the commission needed to commence the process. New York will lose one congressional seat, from 27 to 26. There are 150 seats in the state Assembly and 63 in the state Senate.
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"Having the ability to get the data, interpret the data and then begin to work with a bipartisan group in hopes of beginning to draw these lines is exactly what we should be doing," said Jack Martins, the vice-chair of the commission.
Imamura outlined the principles that will guide the redistricting process. Those principles include ensuring that districts are similar in terms of population, that they are contiguous and compact and "should not be drawn to discourage competition."
Charles Nesbitt, a former state Assembly minority leader who now serves on the commission, reminded his colleagues of the constitutional amendment. Voters approved the amendment in 2014.
"The fact that the constitution has been changed, the fact that there was public support for the change, I think, came from a certain disgust over long, long-term partisan gerrymandering," Nesbitt said. He urged his fellow commissioners to "avoid becoming another partisan group."
At least seven commissioners on the 10-member panel must approve the redistricting plan before it is sent to the state Legislature. To clear the state Legislature, it must receive the support of two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate. Gov. Kathy Hochul would need to sign the plan.
If the redistricting plan fails to receive two-thirds support in the state Legislature, or if Hochul vetoes the maps, then the commission would need to revise and resubmit its plan. If those lines fail to win enough support among lawmakers or the governor, then the state Legislature could amend the plan before approving it and sending it to the governor for review.
There is a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that, if approved by voters, would alter the independent redistricting process. It would set a different timeline for the 2022 redistricting plan — the commission would be required to submit it by Jan. 1, 2022. If the commission needs to revise the plan due to rejection by legislators or the governor, then it must be submitted by Jan. 15, 2022.
If the amendment is approved, it would also change the number of votes needed to pass a redistricting plan. Instead of a two-thirds supermajority, only a simple majority would be required.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.