Redistricting FAQs

What is redistricting? Why is it done?

Redistricting is the process of redrawing political district boundaries on all levels of government where district elections are held. Based on the idea of "one person, one vote," redistricting ensures every voice is represented fairly, by creating districts that have the same number of people. Census data that is collected every ten years is used to draw new maps to account for the ways that populations have changed and moved across the states and districts.

New maps are currently being drawn based on census data collected from last year.

Who is in charge of redistricting?

As of 2014, New York’s congressional and state legislative lines are drawn by an independent commission, subject to modification by a supermajority of the state legislature. The ten members of the independent commission have been appointed; one of the commissioners has sued the state over the commission’s staffing and funding. (Spencer)

In 2020, the legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment (S.8833), which would become law if it were passed by the legislature in 2021 and then approved by voters in Nov. 2021. The proposal would change the redistricting process in several ways, including constitutionalizing current statutory adjustments to the incarcerated populaton, and modifying the commission’s timing. The most significant changes would be to the commission’s voting rules, and to the voting rules of the legislature in approving or modifying a commission proposal.

When does redistricting take place?

Redistricting takes place one year after the census. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the US Census Bureau pushed back its data release deadline to August 2021.

What criteria is used to draw district lines?

From the New York State Independent Redistricting Committee website:

When drawing district lines, the Commission has many criteria to ensure the lines are drawn fairly and ensure equal representation across the state. First among those is: to the extent practicable, drawing districts that contain as nearly as may be an equal number of inhabitants. For each district that deviates from this requirement, the commission shall provide a specific public explanation as to why such deviation exists. Additionally, each district shall consist of contiguous territory, and each district shall be as compact in form as practicable.

Another primary consideration of the Commission when drawing district lines, is ensuring that such district lines shall not be drawn to have the purpose of, nor should they result in the denial or abridgement of racial or language minority voting rights. This is to ensure that based on the totality of the circumstances, racial or minority language groups do not have less opportunity to participate in the political process than other members of the electorate and to elect representatives of their choice.

The commission shall consider the maintenance of cores of existing districts, of pre-existing political subdivisions, including counties, cities, and towns, and of communities of interest.

In drawing senate districts, towns or blocks which, from their location may be included in either of two districts, shall be so placed as to make said districts most nearly equal in number of inhabitants. The requirements that senate districts not divide counties or towns, as well as the 'block-on-border' and 'town-on-border' rules, shall remain in effect.

Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition, or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.

What is the difference between redistricting and reapportionment?

From the New York State Independent Redistricting Committee website:

As population changes across the country and within the state, the number of seats each state may increase or decrease, and that change itself is reapportionment. Redistricting is the process of drawing these new district boundaries.

What is the Independent Redistricting Commission?

From the New York State Independent Redistricting Committee website:

The Independent Redistricting Commission is composed of 10 members. Two are appointed by the New York State Senate Majority Leader and Temporary President, two are appointed by the New York State Senate Minority Leader, two are appointed by the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and two are appointed by the New York State Assembly Minority Leader. The final two members are then selected by these eight appointees, and neither can be enrolled as a Democrat or Republican in the past five years.

The Independent Redistricting Commission was created in 2014 by voters in New York State. On the ballot was Proposition 1, a plan to create a commission to determine redistricting after the 2020 Census was completed. The commission will hold public hearings to solicit input from communities throughout the State, and will then propose a redistricting plan for the congressional and state legislative districts. A minimum of seven Commissioners will need to vote in favor of any plan before it is submitted to the State legislature for approval.

What if the Commission cannot pass a plan?

In the event that the commission is unable to obtain seven votes to approve a redistricting plan on or before January first in the year ending in two or as soon as practicable thereafter, the commission shall submit to the legislature that redistricting plan and implementing legislation that garnered the highest number of votes in support of its approval by the commission with a record of the votes taken.

If the commission does not vote on any redistricting plan by the date required for submission, the commission shall submit to the legislature all plans in its possession, both completed and in draft form, and the data upon which the plans are based.