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New York’s Gerrymander Might Change Which Party Picks Up Seats In The Midterms

UPDATE (April 27, 2022, 4:50 p.m.): The congressional map discussed in this video has since been struck down by the New York Court of Appeals.

Senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich breaks down how New York state was able to pass its Democratically gerrymandered congressional map and what it could mean for the 2022 midterm race.

Nathaniel Rakich: New Yorkers like to think they’re really important; I mean, come on, their state nickname is “the Empire State.” But, I will admit, there is one area where New York has had an outsized national impact recently: redistricting!

Every 10 years, each state draws new congressional maps to reflect the results of the U.S. census. But Democrats in New York have drawn a map that does a really lousy job reflecting the state’s Democratic-Republican split.

To be sure, New York is a solidly blue state: Joe Biden got 61 percent of the vote there in 2020. But its new congressional map would likely hand Democrats between 77 and 85 percent of New York’s congressional seats. That’s like if your friend said he’d eat only five slices of your pizza but then actually ate almost the entire pie.

The new map creates 20 congressional districts that lean toward Democrats and only four that lean toward Republicans. (There are also two toss-up districts.) Because there are currently eight Republicans in New York’s congressional delegation, that means this map alone could subtract four Republicans from the U.S. House in 2022!

That’s a big enough swing that it actually changed which party would pick up seats from redistricting in 2022. Before New York’s map passed, it looked like Republicans would gain around 2 House seats nationally based on redistricting, while Democrats would roughly stand pat. But because of New York, Democrats are now up a few seats nationally!

The ironic thing is that redistricting was supposed to be fairer in New York this year. A few years back, voters passed a ballot measure creating a bipartisan commission to draw New York’s congressional map this cycle. But it didn’t exactly work as intended: Democrats and Republicans on the commission couldn’t come to an agreement on a map, so the Democratic-controlled legislature passed this gerrymander instead.

However, that ballot measure also added some potentially important language to the state constitution. Like Article III, Section 4C, Subsection 4: “Each district shall be as compact in form as practicable.” Well, to draw the maps to their maximum advantage, Democrats drew some pretty un-compact districts — like the 10th, which winds all the way from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Or how about Article III, Section 4C, Subsection 5, which says districts can’t be drawn to favor a particular political party. Except that’s exactly what this map does!

As a result, the map may violate the state constitution — or at least that’s what Republicans are arguing in a new lawsuit. But they may not find a receptive audience in the New York judiciary: All seven judges on the state’s highest court were appointed by Democratic governors. So in all likelihood, this lawsuit is like a car on the George Washington Bridge at rush hour — going nowhere.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.


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