By MARINA VILLENEUVE
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Efforts by Democrats to redraw New York’s congressional and legislative districts cleared an initial hurdle Thursday when a judge said there isn’t enough time before the June primary elections to redraw the maps, even if they are unconstitutional.
“Therefore, striking these maps would more likely than not leave New York state without any duly elected congressional delegates,” Judge Patrick McAllister said at a hearing in Steuben County
Republicans had argued in a lawsuit that the maps — drawn up this winter by the Democratic-controlled legislature — were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats and marginalize GOP voters.
McAllister said the lawsuit could continue, however, and suggested he could call for new elections next year if he ultimately decides the maps were improperly gerrymandered.
The judge said both sides will bring in expert witnesses March 14 to figure out “where the truth lies.”
“Until I have heard this testimony, I’m not in a position to know whether to strike down these maps or uphold these maps,” he said.
McAllister said he’ll issue a ruling by April 4, but his decision likely won’t be the final word: Either Democrats or Republicans are expected to appeal his decision. Republicans want courts to toss the maps and delay this year’s elections.
Legislative and congressional boundaries are being redrawn as part of the once-per-decade redistricting process kicked off by the 2020 Census.
The maps, if upheld, could expand Democrats’ power for years in a state where the party already dominates: Democrats would make up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have in 2023. Republicans, who now hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress, would only have an advantage in the remaining four districts.
New York voters in 2014 amended the state’s constitution to ban drawing maps “for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”
The judge said, however, that the group of Republican voters challenging the maps in court have an “extremely high” bar to prove that the Legislature drew the maps in violation of the Constitution.
Lawyers for the Republicans are pointing to analyses by nonpartisan groups that have cited New York’s new congressional maps as giving too much of an advantage to one political party, in this case the Democrats.
But lawyers for Democratic legislative leaders say the Legislature’s maps are presumed to be in line with the Constitution, and reflect population loss in rural upstate communities.
Democrats also argued the state Senate’s map undoes decades of gerrymandering by Senate Republicans.
Former U.S. Rep. John Faso, a Republican who has been helping muster support for the lawsuit, said in a statement that its backers were pleased the court didn’t dismiss the case.
“Our efforts to overturn this unconstitutional gerrymander of congressional and state senate districts will continue on an expedited basis,” he said.
Battles over alleged gerrymandering are playing out nationwide.
The highest court in North Carolina, for example, pushed back March election primaries until May to provide time for state courts time to review lawsuits claiming the Republican-controlled legislature illegally gerrymandered some districts.
The court ruled 4-3 in February to strike down Congressional and legislative maps over concerns voters were being deprived of their “right to substantially equal voting power on the basis of partisan affiliation.” The state’s General Assembly came up with new maps in two weeks.