Court stepped in to fix Dem-made Congressional map in New York

By Parveen Chopra
Fellow, CCM NYC Election Reporting
Founding Editor – The South Asian Times

States in America are mandated to redraw Congressional districts after every decennial census to reflect population shifts. But the process is used by the party in control in a state to resort to gerrymandering, which bodes ill for democracy as it shrinks the number of House seats that could be reasonably won by either party, thus worsening polarization.


On May 20, New York Judge Patrick McAllister approved the court-appointed special master’s new congressional map for the state, setting in stone the district boundaries to be used for the US House over the next five election cycles. It followed three months of tussle as Republicans went to court blocking the Democrats’ map redrawn to favor themselves. CNN has estimated that the new map would still carve out 15 Congressional districts that favor Democrats and around half a dozen competitive seats. Under the earlier map signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul in February, Democrats would have had an easier path to about 22 House seats from the Empire state. The state’s current delegation to Congress comprises 19 Democrats and 8 Republicans. The true blue New York has in any case lost one seat in the US House due to population migration away from the state as per the decennial census.

The delay in redistricting has pushed the state’s congressional as well as New York State Senate primaries to August 23. But other statewide primaries including for Governor and for state assembly were not moved from June 28. Which means that now the exchequer has to pay extra to hold the elections on two different dates. Democrats will blame it on  Judge McAllister of Steuben County Supreme & County Courts! In April he ordered the Democratic-drawn maps to be thrown out and appointed special master Jonathan Cervas, a Carnegie Mellon University Fellow, to draw new maps. The cartographer presented his draft maps on May 16, which McAllister approved on May 20.

The new map also put paid to the calculations of many Democrat stalwarts, setting in motion a flurry of campaign activity and tactical moves in critical seats. Rep. Mondaire Jones announced that he will ditch his district that stretches across the Hudson Valley to run from an open seat in New York City. That District 10 also saw former city Mayor Bill de Blasio jump into the race. Another newly lined district that combined the East and West Sides of Manhattan into one is expected to pit long-term Congress members Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney against each other. The court-appointed special master also re-lined  the one safe Democratic seat and one safe Republican one in parts of eastern Long Island (considered a battleground now) currently held by Republican Reps. Lee Zeldin and Andrew Garbarino. Zeldin is now running for state Governor.

Of course, New York Democrats are not the only ones resorting to what is called gerrymandering – manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency to favor one party to increase their power. Both Democrats and Republicans have accused each other of gerrymandering in various states at one time or the other. The practice has a long tradition in the US. The term “gerrymandering” was coined after a review of Massachusetts‘s redistricting maps of 1812 set by Governor Elbridge Gerry noted that one of the oddly shaped districts looked like a salamander.

Odd shapes are the least of the problems. Reasonable people on both sides of the aisle in America will agree that gerrymandering is bad for our democracy and can be blamed for increasing polarization. With each redistricting every ten years, the number of competitive seats in the 435 strong US House continue to shrink. As Kelly Burton, president of the left-leaning National Democratic Redistricting Committee, explained to NPR, “It increases polarization. It decreases the willingness and likelihood of two sides coming together to solve problems and skews the incentive structure for our elected officials much more toward the extremes than toward the middle.”

Yet, no less than former President Barack Obama made redistricting his post-presidency priority with the stated aim of taking on gerrymandering that his party felt left them behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee was developed under Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder to coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps.

NPR also estimates that in this election cycle only 30 of the 435 U.S. House seats can be considered “swing seats”. According to The Cook Political Report data, there were 124 such seats after the 2002 redistricting process, and only 99 seats after the 2012 redistricting. Swing seats are said to represent congressional districts that are won within 5% margin. Such competitive districts will of course attract and elect candidates with more middle of the road approach.

Which way swing districts vote is a factor in determining which party controls the Congress, which is re-elected every two years. In the presidential election every four years, of course, it is a handful of swing states or purple states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina which tip the scales for a candidate to  win the Electoral College, tallying 270 of the total 540 votes, and become President. The battleground states may change during different election cycles as Georgia and Arizona proved in 2020.

Currently, GOP and Democratic party do not seem amenable  to come to a middle ground on any issue from gun control to abortion rights. So, do not expect them to  form a bipartisan National Redistricting Committee to fix gerrymandering.

Image courtesy of (Source: Redistricting

Share this post