ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State's Independent Redistricting Commission made its own history Thursday, agreeing on a single Assembly map to send to the state Legislature.
IRC Vice Chair Charles Nesbitt noted it's the first time it’s happened since the commission's formation more than three years ago.
"I think the fact that we have been able to do that and to produce a product is in fact the most important precedent that we've set today," Nesbitt said.
Last year, the bipartisan commission could not agree to a single map and instead sent two versions of state Senate, Assembly and Congressional lines, which the Legislature did not approve. Lawmakers ultimately drew their own maps after the IRC failed to send a second set of maps.
A Republican-led challenge of the process successfully led to a special master drawing the state Senate and Congressional lines.
"The court said if you didn't have a second commission plan to vote on, you couldn't pick up the process on your own," NY Law School Senior Fellow Jeff Wice said.
The courts made the same ruling on the Assembly lines but because of timing allowed the initial map to stand for last year's election. That brought the IRC back to work on new lines for 2024 elections.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said he hopes the process is finally near the finish line.
"Our conference was split last time,” Barclay said. “Some didn't like the maps. Some did but I think just for the sake of moving on, I'm happy this is done and I suspect this thing will get passed next week.”
One commissioner, Ross Brady, did vote against the new Assembly map noting, as many people have, the similarity between it and the one lawmakers drew themselves.
"I believe after looking at this that we viewed too slavishly to what were already drawn legislative lines. That being said, there was testimony in favor of legislative lines," Brady said.
New York Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Blair Horner says the similarities bode well for the maps passage but that's not necessarily all good.
"It does raise the question though, how independent is the redistricting commission if they come up with maps that more or less match the ones made by lawmakers," Horner said.
Cornell ILR School Buffalo Co-Lab Research Director Russell Weaver said the state may want to consider giving the IRC authority to implement maps without legislative approval.
"That spirit of cooperation as we've seen in redistricting time and time again can really break down and so there is arguably still a case to be made that structural changes are needed here," he said.
If the Legislature or the governor does not approve the Assembly map, the IRC will have until June 16 to send another one. If that's struck down, the responsibility will again fall on lawmakers.