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The Empire

Pre-gaming the remaining redistricting process

This week marked the end of the first round of meetings of LATFOR, the joint legislative committee responsible for drawing New York’s political lines. More than 400 people from across the state testified, providing hundreds of hours of comments for legislators to take into account.

So now what?

There are really two important dates to watch: November 17 and December 4. The first date is when a ruling is set to come down in a Federal lawsuit over New York’s primary date. The Justice Department is suing over the state’s inability to get overseas military absentee ballots back in time for the elections.

The second is the date by which a New York State judge is supposed to rule whether the state’s prisoner allocation law should stand. Republican lawmakers have sued the state over the law, which would count prisoners in the districts they resided in before incarceration, saying the law doesn’t conform to how prisoners are counted for everything else and is unconstitutional.

These dates and the governor’s veto threat are overshadowing ever decision moving forward.

Both the Assembly Democrats and the Senate Republicans are moving ahead with drawing their lines. For their part, Senate Republicans have no reason to reveal lines before the judge decides the prisoner case. If he strikes down the law, they have an easier path to drawing advantageous districts. If he upholds it they’ll appeal to the state’s highest court, and have a tougher time.

Either way, both sides will have maps that favor their majorities. These are the very things the governor has sworn to veto.

Here’s where the primary dates come in. Republicans want an August primary. Democrats want June. If the judge picks an earlier date, it makes things very difficult for Republicans. A June primary means districts need to be in place by the end of February. This means the lines will have to be introduced and voted on sooner rather than later. I’ll get to why August is better for Republicans in a second.

The legislature comes back into session in January. Assuming the Governor sticks by his threat—and there’s no concrete reason to believe he won’t—the lines will be vetoed and then legislators have the opportunity to try and override the governor with a super-majority vote in both houses.

For the Assembly Democrats and Speaker Sheldon Silver there doesn’t appear to be much reason for pushing for an override vote. No matter how much he has to sacrifice, his conference will remain the majority. Battling the Governor on something the public has the governor’s back on is bad politics.

But even more importantly Senator Dean Skelos, the leader of the Republican Majority, likely won’t be able to pull enough Democrats in the Senate on to his side to get a two-thirds majority. The expectation among the Democratic minority is that the four-member Independent Democratic Conference could be persuaded, but that still only gives Skelos 36 votes. He’d still need five Senate Democrats for the override. Unless the Republicans can get those votes, there’s no reason for Silver to stick his neck out.

If they can’t override the Governor, then the decision will be handed over to the courts. Then it’s anyone’s guess. Will it be Federal or state? A Democratic judge, a Republican judge, or a special non-partisan person outside of everything? Will the lines be reasonable enough for a judge to say they should be accepted, or will he or she decide to do the drawing on his or her own?
Here’s where the date of the primary comes in again. Republicans hope for an August date, the thinking goes, because it means they’ll have more time to push the redistricting vote into budget negotiations. If they can do that, they might be able to use redistricting as leverage and force the Governor to abandon his veto threat in favor of a smooth budget process.

But that’s assuming both court cases go their way, and they can get Cuomo to go back on his word—not an easy task.