New congressional maps approved in New York

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ALBANY, New York — New York Legislature approved a new set of congressional maps Wednesday for the state’s 26 congressional seats, including several that will be among the country’s most competitive this November.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign the bill. And if the lines avoid any new legal hiccups, that could bring a conclusion to a drawn-out redistricting process in the House battleground state that started over four years ago.

The plan, which passed with some bipartisan support, fell far short of the all-out Democratic gerrymander that many partisans had hoped for. But New York lawmakers touted it as a victory with six key House races viewed as among the nation's most competitive this November.

“We reasserted the right of the Legislature to be responsible for this important task and gave the people of the state a better map,” Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said after the vote.

The new lines will give Syracuse-area Republican Rep. Brandon Williams a tougher path to keeping his seat and make minor adjustments to swing seats on Long Island and the Hudson Valley. But the electoral math didn’t change by much more than a percentage point anywhere else in the state other than Williams' district.

Democrats entered 2022 hopeful they could win 22 of New York’s 26 congressional seats. They wound up winning only 16 after a court struck down a Democratic gerrymander — though that shortcoming was due to an underperformance in places like Long Island as much as to the maps.

An ongoing legal battle reopened the redistricting process before this year’s election. That led the state’s mapmaking commission releasing a new plan earlier this month — which was voted down by the Legislature on Monday — and a new plan released by Democrats earlier this week.

The commission's map was similar to the court plan used in 2022, and the Legislature’s lines featured only minor additional tweaks. Assembly Democrat Ken Zebrowski noted that “19.5 million people out of the 20 million odd people in New York state see no changes.”

The maps passed with a modicum of bipartisan support. They received 115 yes votes in the Assembly (where there are 102 Democrats) and 45 in the Senate (where there are 42 Democrats).

Most of the Republicans who spoke on the measure focused on the decision to change the plans approved by the bipartisan commission. But most House Republicans were not opposed to the new lines because of the modest changes.

“This ultimately is only about the process,” said Sen. Anthony Palumbo, a Long Island Republican. “The voters chose a commission to make this decision. That’s not what we have here.”

Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, defended the minor tweaks.

An adjustment of the borders near Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi’s Long Island seat means that neighborhoods “that share a school district” are now in the same congressional seat, Heastie said before the vote. And a shift in the corner of the northern Bronx that is in Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s district is now split between only two districts, rather than three.

The commission’s maps “split counties six times, and we repaired two of those splits,” Gianaris said.

The lines were approved with a “message of necessity” from Hochul — which let the bills be voted on a day before the three-day waiting period expired.

Republicans grumbled a little about that maneuver.

“Messages of necessity in general, I think, have lost their necessity,” Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said on Wednesday morning.

But he added: “I don’t want to sit here until tomorrow, in a selfish personal way.”

Lawmakers also approved a bill that tweaks the rules for congressional candidates getting on the ballot.

They had previously been required to collect petitions starting this past Tuesday through April 4. The bill changes that range from Thursday through April 4 because of the new lines, and it says that any signatures collected over the past two days will be invalid.

It doesn’t seem that many, if any, congressional candidates had kicked off their petitioning drives earlier this week, so the effects should be minimal.

“Everyone was aware that this was happening in the state Legislature,” said Assembly sponsor Jonathan Rivera, a western New York Democrat. “We’re clarifying it and making sure everybody’s on the same page.”

A bill to limit legal challenges to the new maps was far more controversial. That passed the Senate on Monday and the Assembly on Wednesday after bitter party-line debates.

The bill — which comes after Republicans kicked off their successful challenge against the 2022 maps in deep-red Steuben County — says that lawsuits against the maps can only be brought in Buffalo, Albany, White Plains or Manhattan.

Democrats characterized the measure as an attempt to combat “forum shopping.”

It would help “establish a venue that would have the expertise to handle these types of cases,” Assembly sponsor William Magnarelli, a Democrat from the Syracuse area, said.

But Republicans lambasted the measure, noting that each of the four counties where suits can be brought have a higher share of Democratic judges than most other counties in the state. Assemblymember Ed Flood, a Long Island member, brought up the recent verdict against Donald Trump in Manhattan.

“People on our side of the aisle don’t get a fair shake in these courts,” Flood said. “Is this Russia where the political party in charge does everything it can to ensure it’s adversaries don’t get a fair shake in the judicial process?”

Any Republican lawsuit challenging the latest round of maps would face tougher sledding than the 2022 case.

But it seems unlikely that there will be a new lawsuit despite the GOP critiques of the process, at least of the well-organized sort that there was in 2022. Republican leaders appear poised to not challenge the maps.

“A lot of the Republican congressional delegation is not upset with the maps,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said. “We’ve seen what one-party rule could do with gerrymandering so I thought they could be much worse.”