By Joseph Ax
Democratic lawmakers in New York passed a new congressional map on Wednesday that gives their party the advantage in 22 of the state’s 26 districts, potentially reshaping the battle for control of the U.S. Congress ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The plan, which passed largely along party lines in the Democratic-controlled state Senate and Assembly, could cut the state’s Republican congressional delegation in half, offsetting Republican gains in states such as Texas and Georgia where the party muscled through its own partisan maps last year.
Democrats currently hold 19 of the state’s 27 seats; New York is slated to lose one district due to slower population growth.
The map would ensure the eliminated seat is a Republican one while transforming three other Republican-leaning districts into Democratic-favored ones. Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is expected to sign the map into law.
Democrats hold a narrow 222-212 edge in the U.S. House of Representatives, with one vacancy. If Republicans can win a majority in November, they would be in position to foil much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
U.S. federal law requires states to redraw their congressional lines once a decade to account for population shifts. In most cases, lawmakers control the process, allowing them to engage in gerrymandering – the deliberate manipulation of district boundaries to favor one party over another.
Many national Democrats have attacked Republicans for gerrymandering. In January, congressional Democrats tried and failed to pass voting rights legislation that would, among other things, bar partisan redistricting, thanks to Republican opposition.
The New York map would not have been permitted under that bill, noted Michael Li, a lawyer and redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice.
“It opens them up to charges of being hypocrites,” he said of Democrats.
Lawmakers were able to pass their own plan after a bipartisan commission, approved by voters in 2014, failed to produce a consensus map, with Democratic and Republican members trading accusations of political gamesmanship.
Republicans could seek to challenge the map in court, as voters and civil rights groups have done in numerous other states.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)