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Democratic state lawmakers say they could approve new congressional district lines by Wednesday

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meets with reporters on Feb. 27, 2024.
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meets with reporters on Feb. 27, 2024.

Democrats in the New York State Legislature say they hope to vote on the latest version of new congressional district maps as early as Wednesday.

Republicans, who are in the minority party, say the new lines favor Democrats.

After a closed-door meeting Tuesday with his Democratic members, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said lawmakers will vote as soon as Wednesday on the lines drawn by the Democratic majorities in his house and the state Senate.

Democrats on Monday rejected maps approved by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission earlier in the month.

Heastie said the maps needed revision.

“We looked, and we saw that there were some places that, people like to use the word defects, but we thought that they were areas that could be improved upon,” Heastie said. “And that's what we did.”

Heastie said he’s requested what’s known as a message of necessity from Gov. Kathy Hochul to forgo the three-day public aging process required for legislation.

The decision to alter the lines from the commission’s recommendations could help influence which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2022, after lines drawn by the Democrats were rejected by the state’s highest court for being unconstitutionally gerrymandered, a court-appointed special master then drew lines for that year’s elections. Critics said that contributed to four seats flipping from Democrat to Republican, and helped the GOP narrowly regain the House.

The new lines could benefit Democratic incumbents Jamaal Bowman in the Hudson Valley and Tom Suozzi, who recently regained his Long Island-based seat after George Santos was expelled in late 2023. The new configuration could also potentially disadvantage Syracuse-area Republican Brandon Williams, whose district would now include more Democratic-leaning voters.

But Heastie denies that the new lines favor Democrats.

“We are not allowed to draw the lines with political considerations in mind,” he said.

Assembly Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay disagreed, saying the new lines most decidedly favor Democrats.

“Without a doubt,” Barclay said. “I think the numbers would bear that out. But we are in a blue state. And, you know, I think things could actually have been worse.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul meets with the media on Feb 27, 2024
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
Gov. Kathy Hochul meets with the media on Feb. 27, 2024.

He said with the Democrats in full control of the Legislature, the lines could have been even more unfavorable to the GOP, and he predicted that some of his members will approve the maps.

Barclay and other Republicans say Democrats are thwarting the will of the people by rejecting the bipartisan redistricting commission's maps, which the panel approved in 9-to-1 vote. The commission was created in a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014.

Hochul defended the Democrats’ decision to draw their own maps, saying the constitution allows the Legislature to draw its own lines if it’s not satisfied with the commission’s option.

Hochul, who spoke earlier in the day, did not rule out issuing a message of necessity to allow voting to being a day early, saying she wants the lines to be in place as soon as possible. Petitioning for primary races has already begun.

“There’s a certain sense of urgency around this. People are out there with their petitions already. So I'm anxious to have this chapter wrapped up as soon as possible,” Hochul said. “I believe the Legislature wants this wrapped up within the next day or so. So we're taking it very seriously.”

Whenever the vote is taken, it is not likely to be the end of the process. With the control of the House potentially at stake, it’s expected that state Republican leaders will challenge the Democrats’ newest lines in court.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.