Cutting Schenectady out of the Capital Region District to “challenge” the law

ALBANY – United States Representative Paul Tonko says Schenectady’s removal from the Congressional District of the Capital Region he represents would be “defied” by the state’s redistribution laws because it represents an essential part of the Tri-City region.

“If that happened, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some challenges brought to the process,” Tonko said. “I think it would be very difficult for someone to defend this kind of card in court.”

The Amsterdam Democrat would also be removed from his district if the legislature passed any of the draft proposals presented by the Independent State Redistribution Commission, which is responsible for drawing up political border maps once per decade. Tonko, a six-term congressman and long-time former state assembly member, said it was essential for the commission to follow through on its mandate to work to keep communities of shared interest together.

“I just don’t see how you can defend this,” Tonko said. “It doesn’t seem to make sense.”

The committee has until Jan. 15 to draw maps for the legislature’s review, and may end up revising those outlines until Feb. 28. The deadlines would have been condensed if Proposition 1 had succeeded on the ballot this month, but voters rejected it. Lawmakers may need to act quickly when they return to session in January to adjust the redistribution schedule so that candidates, like Tonko, have enough time to collect signatures in their new districts.

There are several competing factors that complicate the commission’s duty to pay attention to communities of common interest, note redistribution experts.

Generally, if the redistribution maps face legal challenges, the courts have been reluctant to revise the maps drawn by elected officials. Unprecedented on this new set of rules, it’s hard to predict the outcome, said Jeffrey Wice, senior researcher at New York Census & Redistricting Institute at New York Law School.

The commission must follow federal guidelines, which include making districts roughly the same population size and ensuring that they meet the requirements of the federal voting rights law that prevents discriminatory redistribution with regard to race, color or a linguistic minority group.

The commission must also take into account the state requirements that were included in the Independent Constituency Commission in 2014. One of those elements is to keep together communities of common interest, such as the capital region, which shares a public transport system and has common employers. Electoral districts must also be compact and contiguous, which aims to protect themselves from traditional methods of gerrymandering – a practice of manipulating political boundaries to favor a party or candidate.

The process this year is complicated by the fact that New York, due to population decline, is losing a seat in Congress, reducing it to 26.

But in some areas, including New York City and the Hudson Valley, the population has grown. Saratoga County has also experienced substantial growth. But other parts of the upstate have generally lost population, particularly the North Country, which is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik. To compensate for the relative loss of population in Stefanik District, the commission needs to expand its boundaries to include more people.

“We’re taking a hit for their problems elsewhere,” said Steven S. Elliott, Delmar’s political scientist. Elliott worked on redistribution for the Republican Party in the 1980s and for the Democratic Party in the 1990s and 2000s.

Commission Vice Chairman Jack Martins, a former Republican senator from Long Island, said they drew maps starting with the edges of the state and working inward, as if putting together a jigsaw puzzle. starting with the corners. As they work inward, Martins explained, it’s like a ball with pressure on one side which then has to expand on the other.

“If they decide to divide the Capital District in the final plan, congressional-level communities of interest just don’t have a lot of weight,” Elliott said.

The bottom line for commission chairman David Imamura, a Westchester County Democrat, is that the numbers add up to ensure one person’s federal mandate, one vote, a doctrine demanding that electoral districts be divided according to roughly equal numbers in population.

“The numbers determine everything at the end of the day,” Imamura said at a public hearing of the commission this month in Albany.

A place like the Capital Region could end up losing in the process, Elliott said, because it could have too much population for one congressional district but not enough for two.

Elliott was able to find a way to draw a map that includes the Tri-City area, but that would mean the commission would have to compromise elsewhere. These compromises could end up colliding with federal mandates, particularly in New York City, where there are several majority minority districts – areas that primarily include racial or ethnic minorities – and need to be carefully drawn.

Redistributing borders can also have important political consequences.

The proposed Democratic maps would create 20 congressional constituencies made up of voters who would have voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, and six constituencies that would have chosen former President Donald Trump; the Republican map features 17 congressional districts that would have voted for Biden and nine that would have voted for Trump, according to maps and data provided by the City University of New York Graduate Center.

The public can also submit their own maps to the commission with the boundaries they believe define their communities. Schenectady, and for that matter Amsterdam, have been on the outside, with little public participation, while Saratoga County, backed by public advocacy, is making inroads to be included in the Capital Region District .

The map proposed by the Democrats has the town of Schenectady in a central New York neighborhood that would include Monticello, Schoharie, Cooperstown, Binghamton and the border between Cortland and the Syracuse suburbs. This potential district would have voted for Trump with 50.3% of its vote, according to cards from the CUNY Graduate Center.

Tonko, although he is not clear on the legality of the cards that remove Schenectady from the capital region, has still not made a commitment to whether he will move to a new neighborhood if Amsterdam is no longer in his area. traditional neighborhood.

“Any decision I would make in that regard would be after the cards were finalized,” Tonko said. “So it’s hard to say at the moment. I would certainly like to invest in the efforts that I have made for the communities in this neighborhood and I would then look to the best possible way to be productive in this regard.”

Editor-in-chief Emilie Munson contributed to this report.

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