by Alex Custin
New York’s redistricting attempts continue to show little progress towards developing a plan that both the legislature and the governor will approve. The legislature continues to refuse to pass the redistricting commission bill that the governor proposed earlier this year. The governor in turn has continued to state that he will veto any redistricting plan that is not formed through an independent process. The governor has reminded the legislature that if they continue to insist upon using partisan methods to develop the redistricting plan, the courts will end up drawing the lines, and no one can truly predict what will happen if the courts get involved because of all of the changes that have to take place.
Another issue continues to add pressure on the government to develop a plan soon: the need to hold the primary early enough to be able to send absentee ballots to overseas servicemen. New York managed to get an exemption from this requirement in 2010 – it did not have to worry about it this year because it only applies to federal elections – but its chances of getting another exemption in 2012 appear to be quite slim. This issue adds even more complexity to New York’s election process because it appears that the government plans on keeping the current date for state and local primaries, which would mean New York would have presidential primaries in April, congressional primaries sometime around August, and state and local primaries in September. There was some consideration given to changing the state and local primaries to match the date of the congressional ones, but in an unsurprising result, the parties could not agree on a date to change it to. This is kind of interesting when you think about what it will mean for the congressional primaries. Perhaps the date will be set by the judge deciding New York’s suit requesting another exemption to the timeline for military absentee ballots.
Depending on the outcome of that suit, the timeline for deciding on a redistricting plan will be altered slightly. If an exemption is not granted, this shortens the amount of time left before New York will have no choice but to have the courts draw the districting map. The timeframe is tightened a bit more because three counties in New York City are subject to preclearance requirements, so the Justice Department will have to approve the districting plan with respect to those areas before it can be implemented. All of this has to take place in time for candidates to decide how to structure their campaigns as they go into the primaries and then on to the general election.
So to recap the mess, first, a plan needs to be drawn; second, it has to be approved by the Justice Department; third, it has to be in place in time for the primaries; and finally, the results of the primaries have to be determined in time to send absentee ballots overseas to military members early enough that they will have a chance to have their votes count. Of course, this all depends on whether New York is granted an exemption to the military ballot requirement and whether the districting plan is drawn by the legislature, an independent committee, or, most likely, the courts.
Alex Custin is a second-year student at William and Mary Law.