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New York, Wisconsin Brace for Critical Redistricting Battles

New York and Wisconsin are bracing for major decisions over the fate of their election maps in the coming weeks ahead of a critical 2024 election.

In New York, Democrats are looking to get another shot at having an independent commission redraw the state’s congressional maps after it deadlocked last cycle. A court-appointed special master ultimately drew maps in which Republicans were able to flip a handful of seats.

In a separate case, Democrats are also seeking to have Wisconsin’s state legislative maps redrawn, arguing they’re “extreme partisan gerrymanders” and violate the state constitution.

The rulings in both cases, which could come as soon as this month, could have significant consequences for the future. New York could decide which party maintains control of the House, while Wisconsin is a noted battleground state that could be pivotal in future presidential elections.

“For the GOP [in New York] … the stakes are tremendous,” said Republican consultant William O’Reilly, who worked on Rep. Mike Lawler’s (R-N.Y.) race last cycle.

“The party’s got a little bit of momentum going in New York, and even compared to other states in the nation, which is striking. And so the party certainly hopes to keep the lines as they are to keep that momentum going,” he added.

Democrats are hoping to see the Empire State’s congressional maps redrawn following a tumultuous redistricting process last cycle. The bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) was tasked with offering a set of maps for the state Legislature’s approval, but it was unable to reach a consensus.

The Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed maps of its own instead, which were signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) but were later struck down by the Court of Appeals, which appointed a special master.
The special master created a set of maps used during the November midterms that created several awkward member-on-member primary challenges and ultimately led to Republicans picking up a handful of seats in areas including Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of voters in the state is arguing that the IRC should have a second shot at redoing the maps.

“In 2014, New Yorkers decided that future congressional maps would be drawn through a fair and democratic process,” said Aria Branch, an attorney at Elias Law Group representing the plaintiffs in the case, in a statement to The Hill.

“The promise of the Redistricting Amendments has yet to be realized: Last year, due to exigent circumstances, New York voters had to cast their ballots under a congressional map that was hastily drawn by an out-of-state special master and disregarded the state’s communities of interest. But the transparent redistricting process that New Yorkers deserve need only be delayed, not denied,” Branch added.

But former Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), an adviser for Republicans, argued that Democrats didn’t bring their lawsuit in time and that the Court of Appeals’s ruling, which ultimately tossed out the state Legislature’s maps, “actually resolved all the questions.”

“We think this is purely a political exercise and unfortunately, they’re trying to exert political influence over the court and that — that would be a tragedy for our state,” Faso told The Hill.

A decision in New York’s redistricting case is anticipated later this month, and a potential redrawing of the map could have implications for the makeup of the districts and how competitive they are.

“The path for [Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)] to be Speaker runs through New York, California, Wisconsin, among other states, but very heavily New York and California,” said Basil Smikle, former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and director of the public policy program at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

But some observers believe that changes to New York’s redistricting alone will not be enough for Democrats.

“Unless somehow this process ends with very favorable Democratic maps, I think it’s gonna be a long road for [Democrats] to gain four seats and kind of resume where they were prior to the last redistricting,” explained Luke Perry, a professor of political science at Utica University in New York.

Perry explained that while redistricting was a factor in why Republicans performed well during the November midterms, there were other factors in play. He pointed to former Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) decision to run in a new district, along with Long Island — an area where Democrats saw several retirements — trending more conservative. Additionally, he noted the number of strong Republican candidates last cycle, including Lawler.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a group of Democratic voters has filed a lawsuit over the state legislative maps. The lawsuit was filed one day after liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz started her term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The case has gained national attention because Protasiewicz’s victory marked the first time in 15 years that the swing state’s highest court had a liberal majority. She drew the ire of Republicans after she said at a candidate forum before her win that the state’s election maps were “rigged.”

During a hearing on the case in November, much of the discussion centered around the districts that are noncontiguous, meaning districts that have pockets of land not connected to the rest of the main district.

Republicans hold a 22-11 advantage in the state Senate and a 64-35 edge in the Assembly. Observers anticipate that the state Supreme Court will rule in favor of redrawing the maps — but just how extensive that redrawing will look and how the process might unfold is unclear.

Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that “just about any process is going to result in more competitive maps,” but he suggested that Democrats still face challenges in their effort to gain more control of the state Legislature.

“Although it’s a 50-50 state and Democrats do win lots of statewide races, especially in the last few years, because of the way Democratic voters are concentrated in more urban communities around the state, it’s difficult, I think, even for a neutral process, to produce a map that’s going to result in a 50-50 Legislature,” he said.

Jeff Mandel, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs that are looking to redraw the state legislative maps, suggested the case was not about partisan control but about how the state Legislature operates.

“I think that this case is about whether the Wisconsin Legislature is once again, as it always was supposed to be, a body that is responsive to and determined by the people of Wisconsin, or if it will continue to be as it’s been for the last 12 years: a highly technically designed body that is only responsive to a handful of people who are in the leadership of the Legislature,” Mandel.

At the same time, those fighting a potential redraw of the state’s maps argue it’s a settle case.

“As we’ve argued, there’s no legal basis for revisiting Wisconsin’s legislative districts, especially not before the 2024 elections given how long the challengers waited to bring their lawsuit. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s judgment from the 2022 redistricting case is correct, and it is final,” said an attorney for the Wisconsin legislature in a statement to The Hill.

Source: MSN