2020 Census Update – The Lines, They Are A-Changin’
New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission completed its statewide listening tour on Sunday, August 15, 2021. During each leg of the tour, which covered 10 regions, concerned citizens, community advocates, and elected officials offered testimony and submitted documents about how to shape maps for New York’s 26 congressional districts and 213 state legislative districts.
The federal and state maps are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the U.S. Census. With 2020 Census data in hand, the 10 members of the bipartisan Redistricting Commission will spend the next few weeks drawing lines to meet its September 15, 2021 deadline to release initial district maps for the Empire State.
Federal law stipulates that district maps must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. New York law stipulates that the maps should be contiguous, compact, and competitive, and preserve communities of interest, political subdivisions, and the cores of prior districts.
Drawing maps for Westchester County will not be easy because it currently has three congressional districts (17th, 18th, and 19th), eight NYS Assembly districts (88th-95th), and six NYS Senate districts (34th-40th; exclude the 39th district). The target population for all districts must adhere to the principle of one person, one vote.
Additionally, adjustments must be made for residents that might have been incorrectly counted in the districts where they are incarcerated, rather than their regular home communities. Prison gerrymandering artificially inflates the population and political power of districts in which prisons are located at the expense of home communities that do not have prisons. It also denies incarcerated people meaningful representation and undermines their reentry into their home communities.
There is some leeway, +/-5%, for reaching the target population number when creating the 213 state legislative districts. The same leeway is not afforded for the 26 congressional districts. Moreover, the maps created by the Redistricting Commission must reflect rational line-drawing, which protects minority voting rights and communities of interest, and avoids splitting counties.
Westchester County’s congressional map will likely be split because of the 1,004,457 people living within its borders. Depending on how the maps are drawn, the split could occur near the County’s border to the North (Putnam County), South (Bronx County), West (Rockland County), or East (the Long Island Sound/Connecticut).
The clock is ticking for the public to share its views about where the lines should be drawn before initial maps are published. Free map drawing apps are available online with tutorials; visit https://medium.com/dra-2020/building-your-district-map-c4368670648e.
Maps and public comments may be emailed to the Commission; visit https://www.nyirc.gov/public-comment. According to David Imamura, the Commission’s Chairperson, “this process will only succeed with the public’s input.”