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BY JOHN BAYLES | The special legislative task force in charge of drawing new district lines for New York State now has an added incentive to speed up the process: a ruling by a federal court issued on Monday.
L.A.T.F.O.R. (Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment) has had 11 months to come up with new district lines, a once-a-decade process based on the U.S. Census. This year New York will lose two congressional seats due to slow population growth, and the proposed new state districts have come under scrutiny due to a heavy Democratic majority in the Assembly and a small Republican majority in the Senate.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has threatened to veto the plan put forth last week by the task force.
On Monday, U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann was named the special master of a panel comprised of three federal court judges. The panel has ordered both sides to come up with new district lines before Wednesday.
On Tuesday NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “It is an honor to represent my Lower Manhattan community, and I am confident that there will be a redistricting plan in place in the near future so we can move forward.”
There is additional pressure, since another federal judge ruled earlier this month that the primary be moved up from September to June in order to accommodate voters abroad.
“It’s a shame that it had to come down to the wire like this,” said Dr. Costas Panagopoulos, a professor of political science at Fordham University. “They’ve had months to focus on this and have had a clear understanding of the deadlines and the guidelines. It is puzzling and one can only suspect it may have been done so deliberately.”
In order to meet the new, earlier primary date, signatures for petitions will have to be gathered earlier as well.
“They’ll have to gather signatures for the petitions within about the next six weeks,” said Panagopoulos, “and some candidates don’t even know what district they’re in.”
One of those candidates is NYS Senator Daniel Squadron. Under L.A.T.F.O.R.’s proposal, Squadron’s district would be significantly altered and he would lose parts of Tribeca and Battery Park City that he has represented ever since he was elected.
Panagopoulos said the issue is indicative of the larger discussion concerning the redistricting process. He said it is a problem that is less evident in states where redistricting is not carried out by the state legislature and is instead performed by a non-political, non-partisan group.
“This doesn’t happen, or at least happens less often, where redistricting is handled by a non-partisan committee with no vested interest — where the idea is to take it out of the hands of legislators,” said Panagopoulos.