For the second consecutive time, a court-appointed special master will handle New York’s congressional redistricting. It’s notable — though hardly surprising given the deeply partisan state of politics here — that our representatives have failed to properly carry out this most basic and important task twice.

New Yorkers from Buffalo to Brookhaven should be embarrassed.

In 2012, the federal judges who decided a special master should manage congressional redistricting noted it was due to an “unwelcome failure of state government.” Likewise, last month, in overturning the Legislature’s attempt at congressional redistricting, a Steuben County Supreme Court justice wrote that the map was “beyond a reasonable doubt” illegally enacted with “political bias” in violation of the state constitution.

New York’s top court, the Court of Appeals, affirmed the lower court’s decision Wednesday and threw out the state Senate map as well, writing that the process is at this point “incapable of legislative cure.”

Embarrassing, yes. Clearly a Democratic or Republican problem, no.

For many cycles, the Republicans held the majority in the Senate while the Democrats held it in the Assembly. The result of redistricting processes from that period was the epitome of gerrymandering. If there was an upside, it was that the gerrymandering was limited to one house per party — in essence dividing the houses in a twisted version of quasi-fairness, I suppose.

New York Democrats have until the end of April to propose a new congressional district map.
New York Democrats have until the end of April to propose a new congressional district map.
Redistricting Partners

But New York voters had enough and approved a constitutional amendment in 2014, creating the Independent Redistricting Commission. Its charge: to ensure future redistricting processes would be fair and nonpartisan. The amendment authorizing the IRC includes a provision prohibiting political gerrymandering.

The IRC failed miserably, but it was doomed from the start. Last March, the Government Justice Center, a pro-bono litigation firm, had to sue the state to even get funding released so the IRC could begin its work.

Then, for its own part in this mess, the IRC failed to deliver on its constitutional mandate to provide new maps for consideration after the Legislature rejected its first — which were actually two sets of maps, one Democrat-drawn, one Republican-drawn.

Kathy Hochul speaks at a podium.
When taking office, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she planned to use her influence to help Democrats expand their majority in Congress.
Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The Legislature then created and passed its own maps — the illegally gerrymandered ones. Besides the gerrymandering, the Court of Appeals also found the Legislature’s procedural actions unconstitutional.

It’s hard not to think the failure of the IRC was premeditated.

On Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first day in office last year, when asked if she planned to use her influence to help Democrats expand their majority in Congress, her answer was simple: “Yes. I am also the leader of the New York Democratic Party. I embrace that.”

Plenty of states across the nation redistrict with at least some semblance of fairness. And when they don’t, there can be conciliatory solutions. Look to Maryland, where this month Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law a compromise congressional map. Lawmakers there decided to fix the problem rather than litigate an appeal after a state judge threw out a map she called an “extreme gerrymander.”

It’ll be better in New York, too. Based on the Court of Appeals decision, a special master will draw new congressional and Senate maps, an approach that can only be fairer and less partisan, as it was in 2012.

There is a lot of work to be done before the special master issues the final maps, with the court acknowledging that some primaries must likely be postponed to August. Fortunately, there were several items the IRC did not fail on. It held public hearings, received testimony and even gave constituents a chance to submit their own maps. The special master can and should use that information.

The Empire Center was one group that submitted maps to the IRC (count us among the many who saw the writing on the wall early on). And because we knew how important it was, we had a truly independent team analyze and vet our maps. It was thorough, and it was honest, and we’ve made that analysis easily accessible for anyone to see.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul spoke at a campaign rally where she received the endorsement of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Jamaica New York.
The court’s decision came down with just weeks to go until the June 28 primary elections.
Andrew Schwartz / SplashNews.com

Last week, we submitted those maps and the analysis for consideration by the special master for congressional districts. When the window opens, we’ll do the same for the Senate maps.

While we’d be thrilled to have our maps used as the basis for new ones, we’re just as glad to see the special master have the information the IRC already gathered made available to him. He has plenty of thoughtful and fair public input to review that can help put this long, embarrassing chapter in New York’s rearview mirror.

In the end, we want what every New Yorker wants: fair maps for fair elections.

Tim Hoefer is president and CEO at the Empire Center for Public Policy. Its proposed maps can be found at http://www.RedistrictNY.com.

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