ALBANY — New Yorkers are being encouraged to speak out on the factors they think should be considered when new boundaries are drawn for both congressional and state legislative districts.
The process is being overseen by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Similar efforts are underway in all 50 states.
The new lines that will emerge from redistricting will shape how residents of New York are governed for the next decade.
The commission began getting input this week with the first of a series of eight virtual forums targeting the various regions of New York.
Demographic data crucial to redistricting will be released by Aug. 16 by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Those statistics are expected to provide a snapshot of how ethic, racial and voting-age makeup of neighborhoods has evolved since the census 10 years ago.
"While the primary purpose of these data is for states to redraw their districts, these statistics will also tell us how many people live in each county, in each city and in each block,” James Whitehorne, chief of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office, said in a statement.
In New York, drawing new congressional lines is likely to spark turf battles across political circles, as the state will lose one of its 27 congressional districts. In the most recent population count, the state fell just 89 residents short of what was needed to prevent the loss of a seat.
Supporters of the updated redistricting effort in New York says it shifts power away from political leaders and is designed to achieve more competitive elections.
But there is still wariness about the process, and several elected officials are vigorously urging residents to let their voices be heard at the virtual forums to be held on Zoom.
"Political games have no place in our cherished democracy," said U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country, chairwoman of the House GOP conference. "The only way to ensure a fair and equitable redistricting process is to have transparency and participation within it."
While Stefanik is often criticized by progressive Democrats, her district has been deemed by the Cook Political Report to be a safe Republican one.
For that reason, if the Democrats decide to target a particular Democrat through redistricting, it is likely Stefanik's district won't be their focus, as it would be more strategic to tinker with a seat where change could have an impact, said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University,
Redistricting in New York, Reeher said, has produced "a paradox of good government goals running up against political realities."
If the goal is to flip a seat from control by one party to another, Reeher said, a possible target could be U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford. Because Tenney recaptured her old seat in the last election by a razor-thin margin, "you could make a difference pretty easily there" by modifying the district lines, Reeher said.
Tenney's opponent in 2018 and 2020, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, recently announced that he wouldn't run for the seat again in 2022.
As for the state Legislature, the Assembly is so heavily weighted in favor of Democrats now that their party is likely to keep a supermajority no matter what happens with the lines, Reeher said.
In the Senate, Republicans are also at a disadvantage, holding just 20 of 63 seats, but if controversies over various state policies strengthen their efforts in 2022, they could end up within striking distance of Democrats in future election cycles, Reeher observed.
Some political observers have noted it is important to create a record of concerns about how the lines are drawn as the statements that are furnished to the commission could be used to challenge the decisions that emerge from the process.
In any event, providing input to the 10-member panel will help bring fairness to the process, said Assemblyman Joe Angelino, R-Norwich.
"The people should be the primary voice in how they would like to be represented in their Legislature and in Congress," Angelino said.
There will be four virtual forums for the upstate regions, with their schedule as follows:
• Aug. 2, 2 p.m., for the Mid Hudson Valley and Capital Region;
• Aug. 5, 2 p.m., for the North Country/Mohawk Valley regions;
• Aug. 9, 2 p.m., for the Southern Tier/Central New York regions;
• Aug. 12, 2 p.m., for the Finger Lakes/Western NY regions.
The lines drawn by the commission are subject to modification by a supermajority of the state Legislature.
After the next batch of census data is released next month, the commission said it will release its first redistricting proposal Sept. 15. A new round of required hearings will then be scheduled, giving the public an opportunity to sound off on the proposed district maps.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com