2020 Census Update: Time to Draw the Legislative Maps
According to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Westchester County’s population grew from 949,113 residents to 1,004,457 during the past decade; the highest it has ever been. With the data, the work of New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission will continue in earnest to meet the September 15, 2021 deadline for publishing initial statewide legislative maps.
The 10 members of New York’s first bipartisan Redistricting Commission have the monumental task of drawing legislative maps that protect minority voting rights, communities of interest, and rational line-drawing for its 20,201,249 residents. In a perfect world, one map would include 776,971 residents in each of NY’s 26 Congressional Districts (20,201,249/26), a second map would include 134,675 residents in each of NY’s 150 Assembly Districts (20,201,249/150), and a third map would include 320,654 residents in each of NY’s 63 Senate Districts (20,201,249/63).
Due to our imperfect world, the maps must also reflect legislative districts that are contiguous, compact, and competitive, and preserve communities of interest, political subdivisions, and the cores of prior districts. Consider New York’s 17th District, currently represented by Mondaire Jones, Deputy Whip for the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus and Co-Chair of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus. The 17th is not contiguous because it spans Westchester and Rockland Counties, which are separated by the Hudson River. Nor is it compact because the transportation, housing, economic engines, infrastructure, and environmental concerns of Westchester’s southern tier differ from Westchester’s northern tier, which borders Putnam County. Additionally, the combination of Westchester’s 1,004,457 residents and Rockland’s 338,329 residents would far exceed the “one person, one vote” target of 776,971 residents by 565,815.
Based on the 2020 Census, the $1,500,000,000 question is where should the Commission draw the lines on the maps? Federal funding for state and local governments, and each legislative district, is based on Census data.
New York’s residents have an opportunity to participate in the mapping process by sharing sample maps and comments via the Commission’s website, https://www.nyirc.gov/public-comment. To help the public prepare maps, the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York created an online tool, Redistricting & You, http://www.redistrictingandyou.org/#map= 3.5/38.5/-103. With the free resource, Jane and John Q. Public, journalists, and other redistricting stakeholders can understand the local implications of redrawing legislative district lines in New York and throughout the U.S.A., with visual and quantitative data.
The NYS Redistricting Commission encourages residents to view previously recorded regional meetings, https://www.nyirc.gov/meetings, and make their voices heard before the initial maps are published in a few weeks.