During an otherwise dismal winter for Democrats, good news arrived suddenly on Sunday night: The New York State Legislature released its draft maps of new house districts.
Democrats have been staring down a midterm abyss, with Joe Biden’s approval ratings cratering and Republicans making gains down the ballot. It is increasingly unlikely Democrats can maintain their tenuous hold on the House and Senate. Republicans are salivating at derailing whatever legislative goals national Democrats aimless for months now, hope to achieve.
But New York, of all places, offers some hope. A quasi-independent redistricting process designed, a decade ago, to fail—the disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo presided over all of it—could not produce an agreed-upon set of maps among the appointed Democratic and Republican commissions. The commission effectively gave up, leaving the Democrat-run legislature to engineer new congressional and state legislative lines.
With the input of House Democrats, the state Democrats delivered a deeply effective gerrymander, one that can add at least three new Democratic representatives to the delegation. With a margin of just 10 in the House, Democrats will need the cushion of New York to survive a midterm wave or at least not fall too far behind Republicans in time for the presidential election in 2024. Even though the state gained population, New York is down one house seat from a decade ago. had 89 more people responded to the Census, New York would not have lost any seats.
The legislature will vote on the maps this week, and Governor Kathy Hochul will sign them into law soon after. Republicans could mount legal challenges, arguing the gerrymander violates the state constitution, but they will have to meet a very high legal bar to win their case. The maps are very likely to be permanent for a decade.
There is, of course, an irony here. Nationally, Democrats like Chuck Schumer have bemoaned Republican gerrymanders and cried out for redistricting reform. Traditionally, both parties gerrymander, but Republicans have grown brutally proficient at it over the past decade, particularly with state legislative seats in purple states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ideally, the process would be entirely depoliticized, and independent commissions everywhere would produce maps that best reflect where voters live and who they are.