One of the biggest takeaways from the congressional district process so far has been that neither party has made big gains. But the congressional card that New York lawmakers just rolled out is so heavily geared toward Democrats that it could single-handedly change that.
New York is of course a blue state; it won President Biden 61 percent of the vote in the 2020 presidential election. But if it becomes law (a good possibility, but far from certain; read on), that map would position Democrats to win between 77 percent and 85 percent of New York’s congressional seats. The map creates 20 districts with a FiveThirtyEight partisan lean of D+5 or bluer and only four districts with partisan lean of R+5 or redr. There would also only be two highly contested districts (between D+5 and R+5), and both would also lean towards Democrats (with partisan leanings from D+3 and D+4).
That’s three more Democratic-leaning seats and three less Republican-leaning seats than the current congressional map has — quite a big shift for just one state! Currently, seven additional Democratic-leaning seats and one additional Republican-leaning seat have been created nationwide through county elections. (However, the number of hard-fought seats is down by six.) If passed, this card would dramatically widen the gap between the two parties to +10 seats for the Democrats and minus two seats for the Republicans.
I had previously calculated that redistribution of districts alone would give the Republicans (give or take) two new seats in the House in the 2022 midterm elections, while the Democrats would stay roughly flat. (This is done before considering the likely Republican-leaning political environment at the national level.) However, add this map and Democrats would be poised to win about three seats nationally and Republicans would be poised to lose about two.
That’s because this map puts New York’s Democrats in a good position to flip two Republican-held open seats: the 1st Circuit on Long Island (moving from a partisan bias of R+10 to D+6) and the new 22nd Ward around Syracuse (moving from D+4 to D+13). It also annihilates Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis in Staten Island’s 11th District (moving from R+13 to D+7) and destroys the old, heavily Republican district of Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney. (She said on Monday she would instead seek re-election in the open 23rd district.)
In general, however, New York’s Democrats have been ruthlessly efficient in drawing this map. The cook’s political report David Wasserman found few spots where the map could be tweaked to shore up Democrats, and even then, the potential gains were minimal. The map was also cleverly designed to minimize the risk that light-blue counties could fall to Republicans in a red-wave election. The two Democrats representing the two most vulnerable counties on this map (the two hard-fought but Democratic-tipping seats) are Rep. Antonio Delgado and Sean Patrick Maloney. Delgado was one of the strongest House Democrat incumbents in 2020, 10 percentage points ahead of Biden, while Maloney is the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and will therefore have access to googobs (a technical term) of money. The next best districts, 1st and 11th, are probably too blue for Republicans to win under normal conditions, although in a very pro-Republican year it would be possible.
The fact that New York could end up with such an outrageous convention ticket represents a failure for the state new redistribution method. 2014, New Yorker tuned to create a bipartisan New District Commission tasked with drawing new congressional maps and presenting them to the legislature. However, this commission could not agree on a single card. In the first round of card drawing, the Democratic members and the Republican members of the commission each have another card recommended – both were deselected by the legislature. In its second round of drawing cards, the Commission could not be submitted any Cards for the legislature, with officers from each party accusing the other of acting in bad faith.
But the commission was probably doomed from the start anyway because its recommendations were completely non-binding. If the legislature were to reject both the commission’s first and second round maps, the legislature could simply draw its own map—which, of course, it did. (Republicans on the Redistribution Commission argued that this is why Democratic commissioners did not compromise on a map.) This is another reminder that redistributive reforms must be well designed to have their intended effect.
Since the same party (Democrats) controls both the Senate and the New York State Assembly, this card will most likely need to garner two-thirds of support in both houses to pass. This is another provision of that 2014 voting measure aimed at getting new maps passed with bipartisan support – except that it too was fundamentally flawed in that if the party in power had a legislative majority, there would be no votes from the opposition parties would be required. And right now, the New York Democrats do indeed have supermajorities in both houses.
However, passing this card is not guaranteed. The Democrat supermajority in the State Senate is narrow; They have 43 seats, but the two-thirds threshold is 42 (out of a total of 63 seats). That means only two Democrats would have to vote against the card to reduce their chances. This is not beyond the realm of possibility. One of the Chamber’s Democrats, Senator Simcha Felder, is quite conservative as well often votes with Republicans. And some liberal Democrats may find it too hypocritical to vote for such a biased card when Democrats have so heavily branded themselves as the fair card party in recent years.
But even if the proposal is accepted, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will survive legal screening. Just as Democrats have sued in states like North Carolina and Ohio to overturn Republican-leaning cards, Republicans would presumably file a lawsuit against this card because it is a partisan gerrymander. the New York State Constitution states, “Districts shall not be drawn to impede competition or to favor or disadvantage incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.” It also requires that districts be contiguous and “as compact… as practicable,” criteria which certain counties in the new map may not meet. For example the new 3rd district jumps over the Long Island Sound to connect Westchester County and Long Island during the new 10th district Queues from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn.
It’s unclear how likely such a lawsuit would succeed, given that the seven justices were New York’s highest court all appointed by Democratic governors. But what is certain is that it is premature to consider this card a done deal. To follow the progress of this map through the New York State Legislature and Judiciary, as well as the progress of other states’ maps, keep checking our Redistricting tracker.