Reapportionment – coming soon to your neighborhood

There are a lot of issues thrown around these days concerning the United States Constitution.  Like during the second impeachment trial of the 45th president, when some Republicans claimed that you cannot impeach a president who is out of office, bi-partisan constitutional scholarship to the contrary.  Or like when a president incites an armed mob to attack the United States Capitol – that’s not a constitutional high crime and misdemeanor according to the 43 senators who voted to acquit “the former guy,” Joe Biden’s nickname for his predecessor.

One constitutional requirement that nearly everyone accepts is that a census of all persons living in the United States must be taken every ten years, something that has been done since 1790.  There have been modifications, from time-to-time, about how the census is conducted.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution provides that:

Representatives … shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union…. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

The apportionment of representatives is also used, along with each state’s senators, to determine the number of Electoral College votes the states will have in subsequent presidential elections.

Demographics, local economic and tax climates, population shifts, and a host of other reasons have left New York State once again in a losing situation.  Our 27 member House delegation will go down to 26 when the next Congress convenes in January 2023.  As recently as 1960 the state had 43 House members.

Our loss will be another state’s gain since the number of House members is set at 435.  Florida, Texas and North Carolina will be among the winners.  California, with the largest current delegation (53) might also lose a seat as people leave the state.  Texas has gained the most from shifting populations.  Hmm.  Wonder how that will work going forward.  Come to Texas: bring your own water and generator!

The new reapportionment for 2022 congressional elections will be the first one produced following a United States Supreme Court decision that terminated provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which required certain jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to get pre-clearance of their district line drawings from the Justice Department.

The first step in the redistricting process is to get the population numbers, broken down by census tracts.  The United States Census Bureau, given some bureaucratic screw-ups during The Former Guy administration, recently announced that they would not be able to provide the required data until September 30.

That presents a problem.  While political leaders and incumbent legislators likely have some general idea about how they might want to redraw the lines, real work cannot begin until the numbers are in.

Procedures on how reapportionment is conducted, technically and politically, will vary from state to state.  Trifecta states (one party control of the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature) will be the most political in drawing new districts.  New York, of course, is a trifecta state.

The congressional lines that we have had in New York since 2012 were drawn by federal Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, serving as special master, after the politically divided Legislature failed to act.  Republicans controlled the state Senate at that time.  A federal three-judge panel approved the new congressional districts in March 2012, one day before candidates could begin circulating petitions to qualify for the ballot.  

Now, with a Democratic super-majority in both houses, it seems likely the 2012 history will not be repeated.  There is a ten member commission that will recommend the congressional and state legislative districts.  The state Legislature, however, can and will feel free to tweak those lines to serve their purposes.

Currently there are nineteen Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation and eight Republicans.  David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, a publication that does much of their work on congressional election analysis, has suggested that lines could be drawn to set up the opportunity for Democrats to reduce the Republican caucus in the New York delegation by up to five members.

Who knows how that will work out?  Considering that the trifecta states of Texas and Florida, plus North Carolina, where the Republicans in the state legislature are in effective control, have the power to move up to six seats from Democrats to the party of the former guy, it will be tempting for Democrats in New York to reciprocate.

The New York Legislature will also control the redesign of their own districts.  Considering that Democrats were able to flip the Senate under lines drawn by Republicans, they should be able to make their super-majority pretty solid.  Actually it is hard to imagine how many decades it might be before the Republicans, or whatever they call themselves in the future, can reclaim even one house of the Legislature.

Locally there could be some tidying up in places such as the 60th senatorial district, which runs from Tonawanda, then grabs just enough of Buffalo heading to places south, ending in Hamburg.  The Republicans drew that district for Mark Grisanti in 2012.  He lost the next election.  Sean Ryan currently holds the seat.

The 2022 election cycle depends on the redistricting that will be on the table this fall.  Time will be needed to draw the lines, vet them to the extent they are legally required to be vetted, and then get everything ready for the 2022 elections that will kick off with petitioning in February 2022; so more or less four months to get everything done.  That is a tight schedule under the best of circumstances, but not to worry, the New York Legislature is in charge.

New census numbers will also filter down to county legislatures and city councils which will need to do their own redistricting.  Erie County has started the technical process by beginning to set up a commission.

It will not be possible to redraw county legislative districts for this year’s elections; the Buffalo Common Council elections are not until 2023.  It may be that the county legislative and council districts for part of 2022 and into 2023 might have to assign weighted votes to existing districts since it will be possible to determine how many residents each current district has.  It has happened before.

Redistricting is an arcane and highly technical process that will be easy to overlook when so many other pandemic and economic issues are the focus of the public’s attention.  The redistricting work, however, is very important and will have a wide impact for the next ten years.

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