NY Elections, Census and Redistricting Update 06/24/24


State Commission Meets to Approve New Budget

The Independent Redistricting Commission met in Albany on June 20 to adopt a new budget and to let the public know that they would be busy at work preparing a report to send to the state legislature by end the of the year. The meeting, which lasted less than five minutes, approved a budget of $920,846.13 for the coming year.

Special Master Jonathan Cervas Keynotes Redistricting Conference

On June 18, New York Law School convened a conference on New York’s redistricting process, focusing on what happened during the state’s confusing and chaotic post-2020 process and looking ahead to reforms needed before the next 2030 cycle.

Special Master Dr. Jonathan Cervas, who drew the congressional and state senate maps used in the 2022 election, opened the conference. From his keynote remarks:

“Most…criticisms (of the map) were unjustified, in my opinion. For example, it was said that the map was enough to “make Jim Crow blush,” with an obvious allusion to the discriminatory actions to disenfranchise Blacks in the early 1900s. But these comments were not backed up with facts. The map fully complied with the Voting Rights Act. These districts naturally emerge from the political geography and demography. If anything, the map we prepared for the court had one additional majority-minority district compared to the map the court struck down: one in downtown Manhattan.

The media obsessed over the pairing of incumbents in Manhattan. These pairings were unintentional. A prominent member of Congress said that drawing districts with two incumbents was “unconstitutional and unacceptable.” A largely forgotten or ignored fact was that New York, because of a lack of population growth, had lost a congressional district in apportionment, and all members were inevitably going to lose territory from their former districts. The new districts would, at best, only partially resemble the previous decade’s district.

All line drawing should be voter focused, not politician focused. This is the reason why voters, when given the option, always choose to take power of line drawing away from politicians. Plenty of research suggests that processes that exclude politicians are superior on practically every dimension, including less partisanship, a greater emphasis on minority rights, and greater satisfaction among voters. This includes maps drawn by independent commissions and courts.

Many criticisms of the court map revolved around the treatment of communities of interest. Determining which communities should be grouped together is the core challenge of redistricting. Inevitably, some communities will be split across multiple districts out of necessity, and others will find themselves in districts with communities they share little in common with. Redistricting is more of an art than a science. In fact, the number of possible combinations in a typical redistricting plan exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

(O)n the division of Manhattan, which proved to be a media darling

story. Though it may be true the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side had differences, I remain unconvinced that those differences were drastic enough to warrant combining more disparate communities like the Upper East Side and Chinatown. In pop culture, and in demography, Downtown, Midtown, and Uptown are more important than East Side/West Side, leaving aside the West Side Story.

The lines also created lots of competitive opportunities for both parties and brought a large stream of campaign funds from around the country into the state.

Both the Redistricting Commission and the Legislature seem to agree in the end that the court map was basically good. 94% of all voters were completely unaffected by the changes these bodies made. They affirmed what I already knew; no map is perfect, but the court map was justifiable and non-dilutive.

Many of the changes that were made raise some questions. For instance, what constitutional criteria was served by relocating Co-Op City into district 16? Why were several marginal changes made to districts 7, 8, 9, and 10? Why were these changes not proposed to the court in 2022? On the other hand, district 12 was among the most challenged districts in the court map for supposedly dividing communities of interest and its treatment of Jewish voters. However, no changes were made to district 12 in the 2024 map.

Whereas the court map divided 16 counties, the 2024 map divides 21. The 2024 map is less compact than the court map, and some of the changes seem to only be a result of improving incumbent chances of re-election.”


New York’s “Equal Rights” Constitutional Amendment Restored to November Ballot

A panel of appellate judges in the Appellate Division’s Fourth Department has overturned a May ruling that struck down the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) from the November ballot. The trial judge had ruled that state officials made a “fatal procedural error” in an initial round of approvals for the proposed ERA, passing it too quickly without waiting for the N.Y.S. Attorney General’s required legal memo and opinion.

However, the appellate panel cited a different legal technicality when reversing the decision. The judges ruled that the individuals who sued to block the ERA had missed the deadline to bring their legal challenge, as the lawsuit was initiated after the 4-month statute of limitations. The appellate court’s ruling did not address whether the New York Legislature had acted outside the constitutional provisions, as the state’s Supreme Court had found.

The New York Constitution currently bans discrimination based on color, creed, race, or religion. The ERA would increase these protections, banning discrimination based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender expression, gender identity, national origin, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, reproductive health care and autonomy, sex, and sexual orientation. The ERA would not preserve the right to have an abortion but would prevent others from discriminating against someone for having an abortion.

Attorney General Letitia James commented that “the ERA was advanced to protect access to abortion care, enshrine this basic right in our constitution, and protect people from discrimination.” Voters in the November 2024 election would need to approve the ERA in order for the amendment to become final.


Clarke et al v. Town of Newburgh (Orange County)

The New York Appellate Division’s Second Department has issued an order to show cause for the plaintiffs in Clarke et al v. Town of Newburgh, a challenge to a town board’s at-large membership.

On June 25, counsel for the plaintiffs must show cause as to why an order should not be made and entered: (1) staying all proceedings in the trial court, pending the resolution of this appeal; (2) requiring the Clarke et. al and the Town of Newburgh to adhere to an expedited briefing schedule; (3) granting a preference in the hearing of the appeal on the Court’s first available calendar date following the expedited briefing; and (4) granting any other relief the Court deems just and equitable.

Oral argument is not permitted, and the court will decide after the counsel for the plaintiffs shows cause on June 25. This order was initially submitted on June 17.


North Carolina: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has decided that it will not reconsider a decision that left North Carolina’s new Senate maps in place for the 2024 elections. The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Black voters and challenged the state House and Senate maps that were redrawn by the Legislature in October 2023.

The plaintiffs alleged that the 1st and 2nd Senate districts violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by “cracking” Black voters across multiple districts. The federal district court judge held that it was too close to North Carolina’s primary and general elections to change the map, and two 4th Circuit judges have now agreed.

Since the 4th Circuit has declined the petition for a rehearing, litigation over the state Senate map will continue in the district court. Plaintiffs are seeking a trial date in December 2024, while Republican legislators are seeking a trial date of February 3, 2025. In addition, three other lawsuits that collectively challenge the state’s newly drawn maps remain ongoing in both federal and state courts.

The N.Y. Elections, Census & Redistricting Institute is supported by grants from the New York Community Trust, New York Census Equity Fund, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the New York City Council. This report was prepared by Jeff Wice and Alexis Marking.


The New York Census and Redistricting Institute has archived many resources for the public to view on our Digital Commons Page.

Our Redistricting Resources page contains resources on the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act. You can access the page
here: https://digitalcommons.nyls.edu/redistricting_resources/

Archived Roundtable Updates can be accessed
here: https://digitalcommons.nyls.edu/redistricting_roundtable_updates/

Please share this weekly update with your colleagues. To be added to the mailing list, please contact Jeffrey.wice@nyls.edu

The N.Y. Elections, Census & Redistricting Institute is supported by grants from the 
New York Community Trust, New York Census Equity Fund, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the New York City Council. This report was prepared by Jeff Wice and Alexis Marking.

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