On April 27, 2022, the New York State Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, determined that the new Congressional and State Senate maps should be thrown out and redrawn. Below, we answer some frequently asked questions about this somewhat unique process.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process of drawing the lines that constitute the boundaries for election districts for the State Legislature and New York Congressional districts. The lines are based on population and are redrawn every 10 years to reflect census data regarding population change in the state.
What is gerrymandering?
This term arises often during discussions of redistricting. A gerrymander is when election districts are drawn in a way that purposefully favors one political party over another.
How does redistricting work in New York?
In 2014, New Yorkers approved a constitutional amendment to change the redistricting process in the state. Pursuant to this amendment, an independent commission of ten members would draw the Congressional, State Senate, and State Assembly district lines.
The independent commission met several times and held various public hearings. In the end, the commission failed to come to a consensus about the electoral lines following the 2020 census. As a result, the Legislature drafted their own electoral maps, which were adopted in January 2022.
What did the Court of Appeals decision do?
The Court of Appeals determined that the Legislature drew New York’s Congressional and State Senate electoral maps in a way that violated the New York State Constitution. In particular, the Legislature did not follow the process outlined in the 2014 Constitutional Amendment and drew the maps with partisan intent. As a result, the State Senate and Congressional districts must be redrawn. It is important to note that the Court’s determination did not require that the Assembly electoral maps be redrawn because those maps were not challenged. The Court also ordered that the primary date for the State Senate and Congressional elections be moved from June 28 to a date in August.
How will the Senate and Congressional districts be redrawn?
The new districts will be redrawn by a neutral expert designated by a special master and supervised by the lower court, the Supreme Court of Steuben County (where the original lawsuit was filed). The parties to the lawsuit, the Legislature, and any other interested stakeholders may submit maps to be considered.
How does this decision impact the June 28 primary election?
The full effect of the Court of Appeal’s decision remains to be seen, but from the decision, we know that the State Senate and Congressional primaries will need to be moved. This means that we may see bifurcated primaries with the Senate and Congressional primaries in August and the remaining primaries (for Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and various local offices) proceeding in June as scheduled.
However, the Legislature could pass legislation to move all of the primaries to the new date selected for the Senate and Congressional primaries. The Court’s decision calls for the Board of Elections and the lower court to develop a new schedule for the State Senate and Congressional primaries. Once this date is set, the Legislature may pass legislation that would delay the June primary for the remaining races (Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Comptroller, and various local offices) until that new date. While these races would simply be delayed, the Board of Elections and the lower court would adopt the new Senate and Congressional maps, determine the schedule for completing the petition process (again), and ensure that the new schedule would comply with federal voting laws.
Is this decision final?
Yes. The challenge to New York’s redistricting process was brought under the New York State Constitution, not under federal law (e.g., the 14th Amendment or the Federal Voting Rights Act), so there is no option to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, the Court of Appeals decision is final.
What happens next?
The lower court and the Board of Elections will immediately begin work on the new maps and the calendar for the State Senate and Congressional primary elections. The Legislature is scheduled to be in session until June 2, so we expect that there will be more news in the coming days and weeks. In particular, we will be waiting to see if the Legislature will proceed with a bifurcated primary election schedule or whether the Legislature will consolidate the primary elections by passing new legislation.
If you have additional questions about the redistricting decision, please reach out to a member of our Government Affairs practice group for assistance: