New York voters to decide redistricting-related constitutional amendment at the 2021 general election

Voters in New York will decide at least one constitutional amendment at the election on November 2, 2021. On January 20, 2021, the State Assembly approved an amendment that would make changes to the redistricting process in New York, including for the redistricting cycle based on the 2020 U.S. Census. The state Senate approved the amendment on January 12. Both legislative chambers also approved the amendment in 2020. The New York Constitution requires that constitutional amendments be approved during two successive legislative sessions before going to voters.

In the state Senate, the vote was 42 to 20. Senate Democrats voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and Senate Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment. In the state Assembly, the vote was 100 to 50. Most Assembly Democrats (99 of 106) voted ‘yes’ on the amendment, and seven Democrats and all 43 Republicans voted ‘no’ on the amendment.

New Yorkers last voted on, and approved, a redistricting ballot measure in 2014, titled Proposal 1. It established a 10-member redistricting commission to design congressional and state legislative maps and send them to the state legislature for an up-or-down vote. Under Proposal 1, the state Legislature cannot amend the redistricting plans unless two separate sets of plans are rejected. Eight of the redistricting commission’s members are appointed by majority and minority party legislative leaders. These eight members appoint the remaining two members, who cannot be registered with the two largest legislative officeholding political parties in the state. Based on the current partisan makeup of the state Legislature, the commission is designed to include four Democratic-appointed commissioners, four Republican-appointed commissioners, and two commissioners who are not Democrats or Republicans. The 2021 proposal would not change the makeup of the commission. 

This year’s constitutional amendment would change vote requirements for the commission and legislature to adopt plans. Proposal 1 of 2014 created vote requirements based on party control of the legislature. For the commission, seven of 10 commissioners must agree to a plan for it to pass. If party control of the legislature is divided, at least one member appointed by the Senate temporary president and one member appointed by the Assembly Speaker must vote for the plan. If one party controls both legislative chambers, at least one member appointed by each of the two majority party leaders and two minority party leaders must vote for the plan. The 2021 amendment would eliminate the requirements that specific appointees support the plans. Instead, approval by seven members would be required regardless of who appointed those seven members. 

Under Proposal 1, a simple majority vote is required in the state legislature to adopt maps if legislative control is divided. If one party controls both chambers, a two-thirds majority is required. Currently, Democrats control both chambers of the legislature. The 2021 amendment would require a simple majority vote regardless of how party power is distributed in the legislature.

The 2021 amendment would make additional changes to the redistricting process in New York. The ballot measure would cap the number of state senators at 63, which was the number of state senators as of 2021. New York would be required to count residents of the entire state, including people who are residents but not citizens, should the federal census fail to do so. New York would also be required to count incarcerated persons at the place of their last residence for redistricting purposes. The ballot measure would remove the block-on-border requirement for state Senate districts. It would also change the timeline for redistricting, moving up several dates, and remove inoperative language from the constitution. 

The New York State Legislature could place several other constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2021, including several related to electoral policy and an environmental rights amendment.

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