More on Evenwel: deBlasio Joins The Opposition

As covered last week on this blog, NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio has joined the fight in Evenwel v Abbott with an amicus brief. Jennifer Fermino writes about the brief in today’s New York Daily News “if successful, Evenwel vs. Abbott would dramatically change the political landscape in immigrant-rich communities like New York, because it would draw districts to include only eligible voters.”

Attorney General Eric Schniederman’s brief, filed on behalf of New York and 20 other states, argues that “within New York City, one Brooklyn state senate district has a much larger proportion of children (approximately 30% of its total population) than one Manhattan senate district (approximately 9% of its total population) because the Brooklyn district is more residential and home to religious communities that often have many children.”

I am excerpting from Bill Mahoney’s June 3 Politico New York analysis of how the Evenwel  case could have  additional serious implications for New York:

“This case has the potential to be the biggest since 1962’s Baker v. Carr,” said Jeffrey Wice, a fellow at SUNY Buffalo Law School who has worked with New York’s Senate Democrats on redistricting in the past.

Even if these appellants win, there are too many permutations of a possible decision to know what the results would be. But in any scenario, it is all but certain that a decision favorable to the appellants would provide a major new advantage to New York’s Republicans.

A decision requiring states to base districts on eligible voters could cost Democrats at least two seats. Numbers for some ineligible voters are not readily accessible—the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey provides estimated population totals for noncitizens and minors, but not for convicted felons—but an analysis of individuals who fall into at least one of these two tracked categories shows they overwhelmingly reside in parts of the state that are solidly Democratic. If they were removed from the rolls of people who are considered while drawing district lines, the percentage of districts drawn in liberal parts of New York would decrease.

Specifically, 38 percent of New York City residents are ineligible to vote due to age or citizenship status, compared to 33 percent of suburbanites and 25 percent of upstaters. The city already has larger-than-average districts in the Senate, since the lines were drawn by the Republican’s Majority Coalition, which wanted to reduce the number of Democratic strongholds: Districts that fall there currently have populations about 6 percent larger than those based upstate.

Since the changes in the redistricting process that were enacted between 2012 and 2014 require the state to preserve the cores of existing districts, it is fair to assume this ratio would remain fairly constant. If it does, the number of seats in New York City would fall from about 25.7 (some districts fall in both the Bronx and Westchester) to 23.3, a loss of over two seats. Upstate regions would gain the same number of districts; the suburbs would remain mostly unchanged.

Of course, partisan enrollment advantages do not guarantee one side’s victory. But the small number of Republican strongholds in New York City might remain safe. The seat held by Senator Andrew Lanza since 2007 (and Republican senator John Marchi for 50 years before him) falls on Staten Island, where the percentage of residents who are voting-age citizens is higher than in the state as a whole. The boroughs that would see the largest losses would be Queens and the Bronx.

While the Independent Democratic Conference has a presence in both of these, neither has elected a Republican senator in any of the past three general elections.

It is possible Democrats might be competitive in any new upstate districts, but the decreased weight of urban areas would make an increased presence in the region difficult.

If the court decides that lines should be drawn based on enrolled voters (rather than eligible voters), the end result would similarly prove advantageous to Republicans, as New York City would lose nearly three senate districts. In this scenario, however, the city’s suburbs on Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley would gain nearly two districts. Since campaigns in these parts of the state are generally more competitive than elsewhere, Democrats could have a chance of offsetting at least some of their losses in New York City.

It is not inconceivable that courts could order the Legislature to reapportion at some point in the next few years. When the general criteria for legislative districts had its last significant change in 1964, New York State was ordered to draw new lines to be used in a 1965 election, resulting in three campaigns for every legislative seat in a three-year period. While a repeat of this scenario might be unlikely, it is not completely inconceivable there could be general elections for every state legislative district in 2016, 2017, and 2018.”

(author’s note- I assisted the Attorney General’s Office in preparing the state amicus brief)

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