New York Can, And Should, Do Better

After the 2020 census, New York redrew its congressional-district lines in time for the 2022 elections.

Did you think that was the end of the process?

If you did, you might be right.

Or you might be wrong.

Before the state Court of Appeals–which in New York is the state’s highest court–are a host of issues, including this: Are the lines that the court approved for the 2022 elections also for the 2024, 2026, 2028, and 2030 elections? Or were they only for the 2022 elections?

This is one of those actions in which one just senses that the issues really do have right answers, as opposed to issues that one could legitimately call either way.

To figure out the right answers, however, one would have to spend hours and hours, if not days and days, poring over the parties’ briefs and the applicable law.

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And it would be good to avoid result-oriented reasoning: First determining the result one wants to reach and then finding reasons to get there.

It’s, of course, conceivable that, in this action, neither side is engaging in result-oriented reasoning.

Still, it’s fair to wonder whether–to whatever extent–one side, the other side, or both sides are at least tempted to do so.

What’s the first clue?

How about this? The two major political parties are on different sides. Republicans tend to prefer the 2022 lines, while Democrats tend to want to revise them.

Why? One reason–if not the main reason–is that Republicans tend to believe they’re likely to win more congressional seats under the 2022 lines than under again-revised lines. Democrats, meanwhile, tend to believe the opposite: That they’re likely to win fewer congressional seats under the 2022 lines than under again-revised lines.

So from a partisan-political perspective, the lines matter.

Now add this to the mix. The U.S. House of Representatives, as currently comprised, is closely divided along major-party lines. Both major-political parties want to be in the majority after the 2024 elections and beyond. The lines that New York uses will be a factor–not the only factor, but a factor–in determining whether Republicans retain the majority or whether Democrats regain it.

So from a partisan-political perspective, the lines matter all the more.

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Beyond that, you, faithful reader of this column, know that New York’s Southern Tier has a special interest in congressional-district lines.

This part of New York is accustomed to being in a largely rural congressional district with some small cities.

Yet it’s no secret that such a district is harder to draw now than it has been in recent decades. We’ll see whether that flips back after another census or two. For now, it’s harder than in recent decades.

Nevertheless, under the 2020 census, it was possible to draw four congressional districts largely west of Syracuse and Binghamton. One way was to have one district each for

¯ Rochester plus the rest of Monroe County and some additional territory,

¯ Buffalo plus either most of the rest of Erie County, or some of the rest of Erie County and some of Niagara County, and

¯ Two largely rural districts with some small cities.

The 2022 districts include the Rochester Plus and the Buffalo Plus districts.

Beyond that, however, the 2022 districts include one combining part of Erie County with the Southern Tier, and one stretching from the Niagara Frontier, through much of the Finger Lakes, and then north of Syracuse to Lake Ontario’s eastern shore.

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That, in and of itself, means neither that New York should redraw the congressional-district lines again, nor that the law permits New York to redraw such lines again.

Nevertheless, the process, the result, and the continuing litigation leave one shaking one’s head.

Next time–whenever that is–New York can and should do better.

Randy Elf joins those believing there must be a better way.



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