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Lawsuit asks court to block NY’s new congressional maps

The newly proposed 24th Congressional District
New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment
The newly passed 24th Congressional District

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The expected legal battle over Democrats’ alleged gerrymandering in New York began this week as a group of voters in Republican-friendly communities filed a lawsuit in state court to block new congressional maps.

A group of 14 New Yorkers filed the suit Thursday in state court in Steuben County against Gov. Kathy Hochul, top Democratic lawmakers, the state board of elections and a state redistricting task force.

The maps will expand Democrats’ power for years to come in a state where the party already holds a dominating advantage: Democrats will have a majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have in 2023. Republicans, who now hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress, would only have an advantage in the remaining four districts.

“Through this map, Democrats have essentially guaranteed that they will win more congressional districts — and thus more power — than is warranted by the party’s popular support,” the lawsuit reads, later continuing: “Participation in the democratic process will decrease, as voting holds little appeal to those in gerrymandered districts because their votes cannot change the preordained outcomes of elections.”

The voters in their lawsuit ask the state court to declare New York’s congressional map invalid, and either send the maps back to lawmakers or have the court draw up its own map. The court would face a tight deadline to act, with the 2022 election season getting in gear March 1.

“Each of these blatantly gerrymandered districts, both individually and together, have no reasonable explanation except for the legislative Democrats’ specific goal of increasing their political power,” the lawsuit reads.

Democrats, including Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris of Queens, have defended the congressional maps as reflective of population loss in rural upstate communities.

New York City, meanwhile, saw population gain of over 600,000 people over the past decade.

But Republicans — and the voters in their lawsuit — cite criticism of New York’s congressional map by leaders of nonpartisan voting rights groups, redistricting experts and some Democrats.

Such critics say the Legislature went beyond update maps to reflect population changes and went too far by drawing congressional districts that swing heavily in Democrats’ favor and threaten incumbent Republicans.

Hochul approved Thursday new congressional and state legislative maps that were passed largely along party lines by the Legislature earlier this week.

Voters in 2014 passed a referendum to set up a bipartisan commission to draw maps for once-a-decade redistricting.

But the commission predictably deadlocked, leaving the job to the Democratic-led Legislature.

Republicans have blasted Democrats for shutting them and the public out of the behind-the-scenes of drawing the new maps, and failing to reveal who exactly drew new boundaries.

New York voters in 2014 amended the state’s constitution to outright ban drawing maps “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”

But with federal courts reluctant to step in on gerrymandering, it remains to be seen how state courts will handle complaints about partisan gerrymandering.

The voters in their lawsuit pointed t o districts on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley and Brookly n as textbook examples of gerrymandering.

Much of the territory now represented by gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin would shift to a more Democrat-friendly district stretching from the Hamptons to suburbs closer to New York City.

A Staten Island and Brooklyn district held by U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican, now winds into heavily liberal areas of Brooklyn, and cuts across an Asian community in the Sunset Park neighborhood.

Elsewhere, a Hudson Valley district held by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, a Democrat, will now swoop north to include the Democratic-voting city of Utica, while avoiding Republican communities.

Democrats also drew upstate districts that were Republican-friendly, but critics say their goal was to eliminate challenges to Democrats in surrounding districts.

For example, a western New York district now swoops up in a U-shape to North County.

The lawsuit says that move shifted a once competitive Democratic district into a “a very strong Republican district, designed to protect numerous surrounding districts from any serious Republican challenge.”