Partisan politics muddle Independent Redistricting Commission

Independent Redistricting Commission votes on two separate sets of lines

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On Monday, Jan. 3, in a tense meeting, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission voted along party lines on two separate sets of lines.

The meeting started on a cordial note, with chair of the NYS Independent Redistricting Commission David Imamura praising the New Yorkers who came forward to have their voices heard throughout the process.

Imamura noted that the commission held 24 public hearings both in-person and online, listened to testimony from 630 speakers, and received over 2,000 written submissions.

“If there is one thing I have learned from this process, it is how many parts of this state have been systematically stripped of the ability to have representatives of their choice in Albany and in Washington,” Imamura said.

From there, the meeting took a turn when Imamura spoke on what he said was the lack of cooperation from Republicans on the commission to listen to public input and modify their maps.

“Based on these negotiations, my Democratic colleagues and I presented our Republican colleagues with a single proposal incorporating many of the points we have agreed on,” Imamura said. “The Republican members rejected that plan. We asked them to share a counterproposal. They refused.”

Republicans on the commission were startled by Imamura’s tone and decision to lay out his grievances.

“I want to thank all the commissioners for all of their hard work in making this process what it is today,” said vice chair Jack Martins. “I do take exception, obviously, David, to the comments you made about the commission and how we arrived at the place we are today. Thankfully, we do have emails and correspondence that confirm what actually happened between the commission in reaching our impasse. How you choose to characterize it, and frankly, I’m a little surprised by not only the tone you took, but the narrative that you gave.”

Martins then gave his and the Republicans’ side of the negotiations. Martins said that just before the commission’s last meeting, they had all agreed that there would be a process by which the commission would put together consensus maps. Martins said the process would start with the line drawers putting together a set of maps for the commission to consider as a baseline. After that, the commission agreed on a series of meetings in subgroups during which they discussed and worked on the maps.

“The point of us working together and putting that map together and expressing the input from commissioners as to that map, was the consensus building at arriving at a single map,” Martins said. “That was the single map. The fact that the commission members appointed by the majority in the legislature chose to go out and draw their own map was up to them. Our effort was to reach consensus without either side digging in their heels and advancing partisan matters. We continued to work on those maps for more than two weeks. We reached an agreement on better than 90 percent of those maps with a handful of items that remained open.”

Martins said the last meeting was held on Dec. 22 and started at 11a.m. and ended at 1 p.m. Martins said when the group broke at 1 p.m., they decided to reconvene and continue discussing at 4 p.m.

“At 4 p.m., when we reconvened, you read a statement that you had prepared in advance that said you would no longer negotiate the maps that we had spent hundreds of hours and weeks preparing,” Martins said. “No explanation. No discussion as to where things broke down. Just that you would no longer negotiate off of those maps and that you would only negotiate off of the partisan maps that you had prepared.”

After going back and forth for some time on the timeline and creation of the maps, the 10-person commission voted, with five voting for the Republican-created set of lines and five voting for the Democrat-created set of lines.

The aim of the commission was two submit a plan that had garnered at least seven votes. Because neither plan received seven votes, the commission will submit the plan to the state legislature, along with a record of the votes taken. The commission was required to submit their plans no later than Jan. 15, 2022. Legislative approval of the redistricting plan requires at least two-thirds of the members of both the Senate and Assembly. If the legislature fails to approve the plan, or the Governor vetoes the plan and an override by the legislature fails, the commission will be notified and within 15 days of the notification, a second plan shall be submitted to the legislature for approval. Should the legislature fail to approve a redistricting plan as submitted by the commission, the legislature will provide amendments deemed necessary and, if approved, submit such legislation to the Governor for action on the measure.

The NYS Independent Redistricting Commission came about after in 2014 voters in New York State voted yes on Proposition 1. Proposition 1 was a constitutional amendment that aimed to make changes to the process by which to redraw the lines of state legislative and congressional districts. The process occurs every 10 years with data from the census. The aim of the Independent Redistricting Commission is to make the redistricting process more independent and more keen to public input.

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