ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — The New York State primaries are scheduled for June 28, but not every race will be on the ballot that day. Empire State voters may have to vote in two primaries after the State Court of Appeals ruled the Democrat-drawn redistricting map unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore ruled that the Independent Redistricting Committee, comprising equal parts Republican and Democratic members, and the Legislature “failed to follow the procedure commanded by the State Constitution”. This 4-3 decision from the State’s highest court says the Congressional and State Senate districts are unconstitutional, accusing the Democrats of political gerrymandering. In 2014, New York State’s Constitution was amended to create a new redistricting process, which would be led by an independent group of voters.
This body was unable to agree on a map to submit for consideration, so the map drawing fell to the Democrat-controlled Legislature. After the Democrats proposed a map, Gov. Hochul signed it into law. Republicans, who also created a map, then sued, seeing to have the maps tossed for violating a provision in the state constitution barring the redrawing of districts for partisan gain. Similar legal battles have been playing out in several other states.
“This entire redistricting process has been to put a politely a mess,” Professor Grant Reeher, political science professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, told News 4.
Now, a court-appointed, neutral redistricting expert, referred to as a “special master” in the court opinion, will draw a new, non-partisan map, which will be presented for commentary.
“I don’t know what that means. If that’s not defined specifically and in detail, I could see that presenting lawsuits,” Carl Calabrese, a political analyst, said.
This all comes almost two months before the scheduled midterm elections. Voters and candidates alike do not know where the districts will fall. Because of the latest Census, New York State will lose a Congressional seat and State Senate seats will also be moved to reflect where the population currently lives. It is expected that downstate will gain a State Senate seat from Upstate New York, according to experts News 4 spoke with.
“This opinion is a big blow to Democrats. Not just in New York, but nationally because we are going to get a new map that is probably pretty close to what we have now minus the one seat that New York lost,” Shawn Donahue, professor at the University of Buffalo, continued.
The court opinion says “it will be likely necessary” to move the Congressional and State Senate primaries to a later date. Chief Judge DiFiore mentions a bifurcated primary with these two races postponed until late summer or early fall. The rest of the ballot can be voted on during the regularly scheduled primary.
“Primaries with regard to those two offices would most practically be pushed off until later in the summer or early fall,” Ralph Mohr, Republican Commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections, added. “It’s going to mean a lot of work for the Boards of Elections and it will be a bit confusing for the voters.”
The State Board of Election issued a response to the court opinion saying they are ready to assist.
The attorneys for the State Board of Elections are reviewing today’s decision by the Court of Appeals in the Harkenrider v. Hochul case. The State Board staff stands ready to assist the Supreme Court in any way we are called upon to quickly develop a new Political Calendar for an August primary for the state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. We do not foresee the June 28th primary changing for our statewide offices, the State Assembly, Judicial Delegates and Alternates and any local offices that are scheduled to be on the primary ballot. Whatever adjustments need to be made to the ballot access process for candidates for Congress and State Senate for a new primary will be proposed to the court. We will do everything in our power to inform the electorate to ensure a fair and accurate election for the voters of New York.New York State Board of Elections
For candidates, it could mean completely changing the campaign strategy, which could prove challenging late in the game.
“It’s a real curveball to the political organizations and especially the candidates,” Calabrese said. “You might have to revamp your entire campaign strategy based on what that new district is and what the priorities of that new district are going to be.”
After a year filled with political scandal, it remains to be seen how this latest battle will affect voters.
“I always wonder just what the tipping point is for the public when it comes to its frustration with some of the aspects of the way Albany works,” Professor Reeher added.
Nationally, the New York redistricting process could affect the midterm elections, as Democrats hope to keep their majority in the House of Representatives. It is unlikely that Congressman Brian Higgins’s district will be changed, according to Professor Donahue. He believes districts in Central New York will be reorganized.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.