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New York state’s redistricting process is at risk of being unfinished in time for the June primary after a constitutional amendment to speed up the timeline was rejected by voters on Tuesday.
The amendment, among other actions, would have moved up the redistricting deadlines to align with the June state and congressional primaries. State primaries used to be held in September and the once-a-decade map writing is tied to that date.
The process will now continue as it’s written in the state’s constitution, and could extend into March or later, potentially leaving individuals seeking to run in districts that don’t exist.
“We have to see how it plays out,” said Jeffrey M. Wice, adjunct professor and senior fellow at the Census and Redistricting Institute, New York Law School. “To conduct an orderly 2022 primary, petitioning needs to get underway by late February or early March.”
The new maps need to be in place a few weeks before petitioning so the election districts can be set, he said. In a worst case scenario, the legislature could move the state primary, Wice said, but the congressional primary legally must be held the fourth Tuesday in June.
The League of Women Voters of New York State, which didn’t support the proposed amendment, says there’s still time to finish the maps before petitioning—the process of gaining signatures to appear on the ballot—needs to begin.
“Our hope is definitely that the timeline will not be an issue,” said Jennifer Wilson, the group’s deputy director. The process otherwise would have been rushed, and this timeline gives more time for the public to view the maps, she said.
A Tight Timeline
Two-thirds of the members of both the state Senate and Assembly are required to approve a redistricting plan, which then goes to Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) for her consideration. Democrats hold supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly.
Under the current process, the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission has until Jan. 15 to submit maps to the legislature.
If lawmakers don’t pass the plan, or it’s rejected by the governor, the commission has 15 days to come up with a new plan, but no later than Feb. 28.
The legislature and Hochul could draw their own lines if the second plan fails. A legal challenge could allow courts to end up drawing the lines.
The amendment would have sped up the process, requiring initial maps by Jan. 1, and revised maps by Jan. 15, if necessary. It would have set an even earlier timeline for subsequent years.
The ballot proposition would have ensured the redistricting timeline wasn’t “out of sync” with the election timeline, Sarah Goff, deputy director of Common Cause/New York, said in an email on Wednesday.
“In 2019, New York moved its primaries from September to June, which means that without Proposal 1, the final redistricted maps will not be finished in time for 2022 candidates to decide to run and begin circulating petitions in their actual districts,” Goff said.
New York State Independent Redistricting Commission Chairman David Imamura had previously said they’d try to get the plans finalized by Jan. 1 regardless of whether the amendment passed.
“Given where we are now, I’m not sure if that will ultimately be the case,” Imamura, a Democrat, said on Wednesday. The 10-person bipartisan panel, which is being used for the first time, couldn’t come to an agreement in September on the draft plans, disagreeing largely along party lines.
The panel will “make every effort” to get the lines done as quickly as possible, Imamura said. “It would have been far different if there was a statutory deadline on Jan. 1 forcing us.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at firstname.lastname@example.org