New York Plotting Aggressive Gerrymander

The Democratic legislature is likely to set aside the map proposed by the independent commission.

NYT (“New York Will Soon Lose 1 House Seat. The G.O.P. Might Lose 5.“):

Seven years ago, New Yorkers voted decisively to empower a new bipartisan commission to do what self-interested politicians could not: draw new congressional district lines that were not gerrymandered to favor a particular party.

But as the panel prepares to unveil its proposed maps for the first time on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers in New York and Washington are already laying the groundwork to cast them aside — plotting to use their supermajorities in Albany to draw new district boundaries for the next decade that might eliminate as many as five Republican-held seats.

The end result could drive one of the most consequential shifts in power in the country this redistricting cycle, the first since New York voters approved a 2014 ballot measure to curb gerrymandering.

Under the most aggressive scenarios, Democrats could emerge from 2022’s midterm elections with control of as many as 23 of New York’s 26 House seats in an all-out effort to prop up their chances of retaining control of Congress. For the first redistricting cycle in decades, Democrats control the Legislature and governor’s office, giving them the freedom to reshape districts without having to compromise with Republicans, who long held a lock on the State Senate.

“New York might be the biggest redistricting weapon for either party in the country,” said Dave Wasserman, a national elections analyst with the Cook Political Report.

Wielding it will almost certainly raise howls of protest from Republicans and expose Democrats to legal challenges and political charges that they are hypocritically turning their backs on the party’s promise to end gerrymandering, the practice that allows politicians to draw legislative lines in their party’s favor.

Just Monday, Chuck Schumer, the state’s senior senator and the Democratic majority leader in Washington, sought to rally senators on Capitol Hill in favor of a sweeping national elections bill that would override state laws like New York’s and outlaw “vicious gerrymandering, which further threatens to divide our politics.”

Yet with Republicans preparing to use their control of states like Texas, Florida and Georgia to pile up a dozen or more new red seats, Democrats seem intent on using New York’s laws to their advantage. Mr. Wasserman said that New York’s gains would likely be greater than others whose process was under single-party control, such as Texas, because those states have already been more thoroughly gerrymandered.

Top officials in Albany have privately indicated to Democrats in the congressional delegation that they intend to consult with them on how to draw the new maps, according to two Democrats directly familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to detail the private conversations. Though the Constitution gives the commission the first shot at drawing maps, lawmakers in Albany have broad leeway to disregard the panel’s work and create their own.

This is obviously an incredibly cynical, hypocritical move. It goes against what Democrats claim to be fighting for at the national level and against the express wishes of New York voters and, indeed, the spirit of the law. Yet, it’s perfectly understandable politically—Republican-controlled states are not only gerrymandering but are going out of their way to make it harder for Democrats to vote—and well within bounds of recent US Supreme Court rulings reaffirming the near-plenary power of state legislatures to draw Congressional districts.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I hate this, but the Republican states have made it clear these are the rules of the game, and the Republican Supreme Court has blessed gerrymandering. The Dems can not playboy a different set of rules.

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  2. JohnMcC says:

    As horrible as a gunfight might be, don’t bring a knife if you’re forced to attend.

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  3. Kathy says:

    If you proposed a cease fire to the enemy and they declined, would it be hypocritical to keep fighting?

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  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Indeed. Ideally everybody would run a clean poker game, but if you’re the only guy at the table without cards up his sleeve, your best course of action is to get some of your own.

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  5. drj says:

    This is obviously an incredibly cynical, hypocritical move. It goes against what Democrats claim to be fighting for at the national level

    Deciding to play by the rules that were introduced against your express wishes is not hypocritical at all.

    Don’t blame NY Democrats, blame SCOTUS. This is entirely on them.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    Don’t blame NY Democrats, blame SCOTUS. This is entirely on them.

    Extreme partisan gerrymandering has been going on for at least a century. The only thing that’s changed is how much easier software has made it in recent years. SCOTUS simply affirmed a longstanding precedent that purely partisan gerrymandering, so long as it doesn’t violate other Constitutional provisions, is fair game.

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  7. Blue Galangal says:

    Oddly enough, in Ohio, Republicans – contra a citizen-passed ballot measure – have proposed an equally aggressively gerrymandered map and shrugged when it was pointed out it was illegal and against the (again, citizen-passed law), since the language of the measure passed says “should” instead of “will” or some such nonsense.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Shocking. Absolutely shocking that Democrats won’t unilaterally disarm. Who’da thunk it?

    Speaking as someone who is always outvoted (not complaining, I chose to live here), my outrage is lacking.

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  9. KM says:

    @James Joyner:
    So if it’s fair game, what’s the problem? Fair’s fair and all….

    Hopefully liberals are finally wising up to the fact that a pyrrhic moral victory means absolutely nothing. We keep pretending it’s more important to hold on to ideals then to exist in a system where we can implement those ideals; sometimes you have to bloody a specific bully’s nose before you can do something to address bullying at large.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    It seems to me that Joe Manchin could, almost singlehandedly in fact, address this problem AND take a big step toward restoring the much vaunted bipartisanship in Congress that he so values by supporting efforts by his party to eliminate the disruptions addressed by the bills pending in Congress at this very moment.

    Of course, that would depend on Manchin actually valuing the bipartisanship he so vigorously bloviates about caring about. I’m guessing that he’ll stand in place and lament the partisanship–of his, not the opposition’s, party.

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  11. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    So it’s “fair game” when Republicans do it, but when Democrats decide to go tit for tat it’s “incredibly cynical,” and “hypocritical?”

    Oh, FFS.

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  12. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: And as a matter of negotiation, giving up an advantage in advance is often nothing more than an own goal.

    Whereas inducing a bit of reciprocal pain but with an offer to resolve often incentivezes people to come to the nego table.

    So inducing a bit of severe pain but simultaneously offering up some resolutions to equally effect, might have a solid ground for a modicum of progress.

    Whereas playing high minded and simply losing, well that merely incentivizes the card cheats to piously posture while continuing their game.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    So it’s “fair game” when Republicans do it, but when Democrats decide to go tit for tat it’s “incredibly cynical,” and “hypocritical?”

    1. It’s hypocritical and cynical when Democrats do it because they’re the ones railing about Republicans undermining democracy with their shenanigans. Republicans are making no bones about pressing their advantage.

    2. Aside from the aforementioned hypocrisy, it’s fair game for either party to draw district lines to maximize their advantage in the sense that it’s well within the rules of the game and has recently been given renewed blessing by the Supremes.

    3. It’s all really undemocratic and a horrible way to run a representative government.

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  14. Jen says:

    This needs to happen. Until Democrats are as aggressive in manipulating gerrymandering as Republicans are, there is no reason whatsoever for Republicans to adjust their tactics.

    Wisconsin’s lines are about as manipulative and slanted as they come, in favor of Republicans. New York is doing the same thing? Fine.

    I have long been in favor of compact districts that are as balanced as possible. I don’t think that highly partisan gerrymandering is good for the country, in fact it has probably contributed heavily to the divisions we are seeing. But to ask Democrats to operate at a disadvantage just to claim a higher moral ground is not just silly but damaging.

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  15. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: Depends how they frame it. It is hypocritical and cynical if them maintain a pretence that they’re not playing hardball.

    On the other hand, if the offer is extended for reform but there’s the counter that no reform means they will play as dirty as the other…. that’s realism.

    Ah and I read in the NYT that they – the NY Democrats – may have an opportunity to put a knife in the Stefanik lady who knifed Madame Cheney.

    That might be a nice bit of Quid Pro Quo for Madame Cheney.

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  16. dmichael says:

    Ooh, ooh, Dems are bad because they are doing what the Repubs have been doing for multiple election cycles. Oh wait, that’s not it. They are bad because they express a goal of a more democratic method of redistricting that has been frustrated by Repubs who have been aggressively gerrymandering to prevent it and the Dems shouldn’t be allowed to counter it. Now I’ve got it.

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  17. Kathy says:

    There’s a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma going on. The party that ends political gerrymandering will lose seats in the House, the party that keeps it gains seats. The only way to make for en even playing field is if every state ends the practice.

    This cannot be done if we leave it to each state to decide. Yes, some states have ended the practice, but more have not. The solution is a federal law governing how districts get drawn (and it would help to expand the House as well to get better representation while we’re at it).

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  18. @James Joyner:

    It’s all really undemocratic and a horrible way to run a representative government.

    Indeed.

    I fear what all this shows is that instead of the country trying to rectify our democratic deficits, we are just going to further deepen the flaws in our system.

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  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: It’s hypocritical and cynical when Democrats do it because they’re the ones railing about Republicans undermining democracy with their shenanigans. Republicans are making no bones about pressing their advantage.

    It’s hypocritical and cynical to bring a gun to a gunfight after your opponent refused your preferred arm wrestling tournament? No James, just no.

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  20. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I fear what all this shows is that instead of the country trying to rectify our democratic deficits, we are just going to further deepen the flaws in our system.

    Agreed. And sadly this is also reflected in the Miley discussion as well.

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    In Wisconsin, Dems often win 55%+ of the statewide vote, but get less than 40% of the seats.
    In NC, it’s about the same.

    I wish we’d aggressively gerrymander California. Self-Identified republicans are down to about 26% in this state. We could gerrymander the GOP completely out of the state if we so desired.

    I wish we desired it.

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  22. Mu Yixiao says:

    @EddieInCA:

    In Wisconsin, Dems often win 55%+ of the statewide vote, but get less than 40% of the seats.

    And the scary thing is, Wisconsin really isn’t that gerrymandered compared to other states. I mean… yeah, our districts are fucked up, but they aren’t this.

    For fun: Build your own districts.

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  23. Barry says:

    @Kathy: “This cannot be done if we leave it to each state to decide. Yes, some states have ended the practice, but more have not. The solution is a federal law governing how districts get drawn (and it would help to expand the House as well to get better representation while we’re at it).”

    *And* it has to be obeyed. If the Red states break it and SCOTUS upholds their breaking, then it’s back to bringing a knife to a gunfight.

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  24. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “It’s hypocritical and cynical when Democrats do it because they’re the ones railing about Republicans undermining democracy with their shenanigans. Republicans are making no bones about pressing their advantage.”

    I’ll pile on.

    James, this is how got here. A massive bias that the GOP *must* always be excused.

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  25. Barry says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I fear what all this shows is that instead of the country trying to rectify our democratic deficits, ”

    Steve, the GOP has been the driver behind this, has benefitted handsomely and clearly has a SCOTUS lock on it.

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  26. JohnMcC says:

    Just a stray thought…. If the recent shocks and disasters of political nature that we’ve undergone leave us in our present mess…. How bad is the disaster going to be that leads to a system correction? Assuming that a collapse of our democracy would lead to a correction and re-invention?

    Very sad thought.

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  27. Barry says:

    @JohnMcC: IMHO, holding on until enough of these f*ckers die is the only non-violent way out.

    If it work, it will take decades.

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  28. Kathy says:

    @Barry:

    Having given the matter some thought, the best thing to bring to a gunfight would be a flamethrower.

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  29. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    If the Republicans really object, there are several proposals in Congress to stop this that the Democrats have been more than willing to advance.

    My opinion: if the US still exists 100 years from now (and I have grave doubts), the Rucho decision will be treated with the same contempt as Dred Scott is today. This is the world the Supremes made inevitable. I don’t see how the country survives it without radically changing course and rejecting the decision. Hopefully without a Civil War this time, but…

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  30. Andy says:

    I’m not surprised that supposed principles fold in the face of political expediency. But people ought to realize they can’t have it both ways and that spoken principles mean nothing if they are just lip service.

    For the record, Colorado isn’t going to do the same thing. I wish more states were like Colorado.

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  31. EddieInCA says:

    @Andy:

    For the record, Colorado isn’t going to do the same thing. I wish more states were like Colorado.

    Solidly Blue? Me, too.

    All three branches are run by Dems.
    Democrats have won the Gov Office every election since 2007.
    Democrats have controlled the Colo House 15 of the last 17 years, including all since 2013
    Democrats have controlled the Colo Senate 13 of the last 17 years.

    I’d like more states to be like Colorado, too.

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  32. Barry says:

    @Andy: Andy, this is your party suddenly complaining when we do it back.

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  33. Gavin says:

    Democrats are pushing their advantage exactly as far as “the law” per the Supremes and precedent will allow them.

    Until Republicans move first by un-gerrymandering Ohio because it’s the right thing to do, New York is not up for discussion.

    Andy, we’re all aware exactly what Republican “principles” are — FYIGM. Sounds like you just don’t think you’ll win when you’re up against someone who plays exactly the same game as you.

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  34. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: I wish more states were like Colorado.

    So do I. Let’s start with Texas.

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  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I would go with auto shotguns with drum magazines, but a flamethrower is a decent 2nd choice. 😉

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  36. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Kathy:
    Of course Han shot first. First rule of gunfight is win.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Before my tremor got bad, my personal pick was scoped rifle at 500 yards plus. These days I’m more about calling in artillery. Although shotgun works too.

    I’m snickering about the GQP complaining about the Dems not bringing a butter knife to a gunfight, which has been their speed since ’68…

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  37. Andy says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Solidly Blue? Me, too.

    All three branches are run by Dems.

    The notion that Colorado is only a great state because of party identification is pretty simplistic, to put it charitably. You don’t really seem to understand that Democrats here are different and party ID isn’t as important as you think.

    @Barry:

    Andy, this is your party suddenly complaining when we do it back.

    I don’t have a party, I’ve never been a member of or associated myself with the GoP. But you aren’t alone in wrongly assuming that I must be a Republican because I don’t pull my punches with Democrats. I usually vote for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy into stuff that I think is BS or wrong out of a sense of tribal or partisan affiliation.

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  38. Andy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I lived in Texas for a while. I don’t think Colorado’s unique politics could be replicated there, but Texas Democrats could certainly do what Colorado Democrats did and be competitive through pragmatism and meeting Texans where they are.

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