On Tuesday, Nov. 23, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission held their final in-person public hearing at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center.
Over the past few weeks, the commission has traveled across New York State collecting feedback on the map proposals that were released by the commission on Sept. 15. The commission released two sets of maps on Sept. 15. The “Letters” maps were the ones proposed by Democrats on the commission, while the “Names” maps were the ones proposed by Republicans.
At the meeting, when map proposals were released, David Imamura, chairman of the New York Independent Redistricting Commission, said: “The draft plans we release today attempt to incorporate the public input we received, but they should be considered only what they are called in the [state] Constitution—drafts. [...] I would be the first to say these plans are imperfect, and that, based on public input, they can, should, and will change.”
The Redistricting Commission is meant to be a bipartisan group with appointees from both parties and two members chosen by the six appointees. However, the decision to release two sets of maps back in the fall demonstrated that they have a long way to go in order to find a consensus.
Back in 2014, voters in New York voted yes on a proposition that created a constitutional amendment “to implement historic changes with the intent to achieve a fair and readily transparent process by which to redraw the lines of state legislative and congressional districts.” The redistricting commission was created to aid in this endeavor.
On Nov. 2 of 2021, New Yorkers rejected Proposition 1, which was an amendment to redistricting changes in New York. By rejecting the proposition, the vote threshold for passing the redistricting plans stays the same, instead of a simple majority vote in the legislature passing the plan. The proposal also pushed to make the deadlines for the commission to submit their plans earlier. Instead, the deadline stays the same at Jan. 15, 2022. However, at the public hearing on Nov. 23, Imamura noted:
“I think I speak for all of my fellow commissioners when I say that we, in order to ensure that state board of elections have time to implement our plans, we must get lines to the legislator earlier that the statutory deadlines that are in the state constitution.
“This process has been enormously challenging; with delays in the census caused by COVID, delays in the funding, this process, which is supposed to take a year, has instead been compressed into four months.”
The public hearings are being conducted around the state so that commissioners can get input from residents about the proposed maps.
“The reality is, we don’t all live in the areas that we’re drawing these maps for, so the opportunity to inform our position with regards to these maps and through these hearings is extraordinarily important,” vice-chairman of the commission Jack Martins, said.
One point that was brought up by members of the public during the hearing was the dividing lines in the maps tends to split up towns unfairly. For example, in the Letters draft plan for the Senate and the Town of Islip is broken up.
One resident who spoke on the issue was Jay Schoenfeld of Setauket. Schoenfeld spoke about how splitting up certain towns means that they get less attention from two representatives, instead of undivided attention from one.
“And while it sounds nice to say you have two senators helping our community, the reality is that the level of concern usually gets split between two officers and fails to produce the volume needed in either one of them to command the center of time, interest and attention,” Schoenfeld said.
“In looking at the maps, I didn’t think either of the plans satisfactorily address this problem. They just kind of move the dividing line somewhere.”
The maps are available to view at nyirc.org and the commission is asking the public to submit written comments to them so that they can better understand the communities affected before they begin the process of submitting their final plan. Comments should be submitted by Monday, Dec. 6 for them to be read and considered by the committee
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