New York Democrats propose tilting new congressional map in their favor

Democrats who control the New York state Legislature unveiled a new congressional map Tuesday that is expected to give their party a moderate boost in their effort to flip the US House in the November elections.

The new district lines, which lawmakers hope to quickly approve, were released a day after Democrats in the legislature rejected a map crafted by the New York Independent Redistricting Commission, in favor of drawing their own.

Democrats’ map would improve their chances of picking up seats in as many as two districts, experts say, but it avoided an aggressive partisan gerrymander that could have dramatically boosted Democratic prospects of a House takeover. The state is considered an epicenter of the fight over control of the House, where Republicans hold a paper-thin majority. GOP gains in the Empire State in 2022 helped Republicans seize control of the lower chamber in that year’s midterm elections.

“The map makes modest changes at the margins,” said Jeffrey Wice, a redistricting expert and an adjunct professor at New York Law School. “It’s by no means the type of plan that Republicans feared.”

State lawmakers left in place the commission’s boundaries for a central New York seat represented by freshman Republican Brandon Williams, which includes more territory favorable to Democrats and could result in a Democratic pickup in the fall. But Democrats in the state Legislature also made a Hudson Valley seat now held by another Republican freshman, Marc Molinaro, more competitive than the commission’s compromise map had.

Aides to Williams and Molinaro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Additionally, state lawmakers boosted Democrat Tom Suozzi’s 3rd Congressional District seat on Long Island, which Democrats flipped earlier this month in a special election to succeed expelled former Rep. George Santos.

The contours of a district now represented by Democrat Jamaal Bowman, a prominent progressive, also shifted to once again include parts of a large Black community in a section of the Bronx that he lost in 2022 redistricting.

But the new map dropped another heavily African American community from his district, so it was not clear that Bowman had gained an advantage in his closely watched Democratic primary against Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

The more measured approach that New York Democrats took in drafting the congressional map could be aimed at trying to skirt fresh litigation, following protracted legal battles that lasted for years after the 2020 census ended, Wice said.

“The question becomes one as to whether Republicans see any Democratic edge as significant enough to throw this back into court,” he said. “The fight for the House of Representatives gets down to a district-by-district battle. Every district counts.”

Some Republicans were withholding early judgment.

Adam Kincaid, president and executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said his team was still evaluating the proposed map.

“The most favorable moves in this map are toward Democrats, and some changes go well beyond the 2% guardrail,” Kincaid said in an email, referring to a New York statute that bars lawmakers from making a more than 2% population change in a district from a previous iteration of a congressional map.

“Those are points of concern,” he added, “but the map broadly appears to comply with the New York Constitution.”

Under New York law, the state Legislature has the power to weigh in on the independent commission’s map. A two-thirds majority vote is required in each chamber to approve or reject maps.

Democrats’ map is the latest action in a drawn-out fight over New York’s US House districts.

A state court judge oversaw the process of drawing the congressional map used in the 2022 elections. This came after the Independent Redistricting Commission failed to agree on new lines following the 2020 census and a map drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature was rejected by the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

Democrats, arguing that the court-drawn map should not be used for more than one election, went back to court, asking for the redistricting commission to try again. The Court of Appeals, now under more liberal control, agreed late last year and tasked the commission with drawing a new map. And that map was rejected by state lawmakers this week.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information.

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