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Democrats Discover their Inner Elbridge Gerry

Posted on Tuesday, February 8, 2022
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AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman

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New York is not known for its “good government” approach to politics. It is the state of Andrew Cuomo, Bill de Blasio, and Boss Tweed after all. It is also where three State Senate majority leaders in a row found themselves, involuntary guests of the federal government, along with their State Assembly counterpart. It was hardly surprising, then, that New York Democrats would not let pesky little things like consistency with their national message about “gerrymandering” posing a threat to democracy—or even an amendment to the state constitution that New York voters passed in 2014 that outlaws the drawing of lines to favor one party—deter them from consolidating their power.

Even still, the sheer shamelessness of the response of national Democrats and liberal elements of the political media to the state’s proposed congressional map is stunning. The map is so blatantly partisan that it has been dubbed the “Hochulmander” (after New York’s new governor, Kathy Hochul).

“The plan takes some creative liberties, to say the least,” is how the Cook Report’s Dave Wasserman describes a map which he suggests could transform New York’s congressional delegation from 19D-8R to 22D-4R, “the largest single-state shift in the country.” The New York Times’s Nate Cohn led a discussion as to whether recent developments in New York, along with favorable court rulings in Alabama and North Carolina, could create a scenario where Democrats win the House while narrowly losing the popular vote. His conclusion? It is possible but will be close. The fact is that there are simply very few marginally Republican seats, far less than last decade, that Democrats could realistically target.

New York’s brutal new map illustrates this. The four “safe” Republican seats are very safe indeed. The closest, in Long Island, voted for Donald Trump by 14%. The other three range from having been won by Trump by 18% to 20%. They are not seriously on the table, absent a major realignment, in which case 40 seats elsewhere would likely fall first. As for the Democratic seats, the closest is that held by Anthony Delgado, which will now have voted 53.27%-45.09% for Joe Biden. Assuming Delgado wins reelection to that seat, and Democrats win everything where Joe Biden did better than in that district, the result will be the predicted 22-4 Democrat advantage.  

The shift is dramatic when compared with the old map. Donald Trump wins 4 seats under the new map compared with 7 on the old map, while Biden wins 22 compared with 20 on the old. Yet the shift is even more dramatic when the most marginal Biden seat on the new map voted for Biden by 8%, making it more Democratic than 9 seats on the old map. In effect, the same statewide margin which would have produced a 19D-8R map in 2020 will produce the 22D-4R result in 2022 without any voters changing their minds This can be demonstrated visually when the results for the two maps are plotted against one another, with the old map on the left and the proposed lines for 2022 on the right. They do not align exactly, as New York is losing a congressional district.

This is not to say Democrats are guaranteed to win all of these races. Democrats seem set for a brutal 2022, and across the river in New Jersey, the outer suburbs revolted against the Democrats even more dramatically than in Virginia, even if they failed to quite take down Governor Phil Murphy last November. There is plenty of reason to believe such a revolt will follow on both Long Island and Staten Island. That is probably one reason why Democrats sought to “pack” Republican voters on Long Island into a single-seat, the new 2nd Congressional District, which voted for Donald Trump by a margin of 56%-42%. The result is that there is a substantial “cushion” against any swing to the GOP. Zeldin’s Long Island seat, which Trump carried by 4%, is now Biden+11%.

It is not for nothing that Wasserman termed the new maps a “near-perfect” gerrymander, except as it is Democrats doing it, the remark seemed to exude awe rather than horror.

Wasserman also seemed to be ignoring the State Senate maps, which make the congressional lines look like amateur hour when it comes to partisanship. The Republican Party held the New York State Senate until the 2018 elections, making it their last vestige of influence in the Empire State. The new maps will not only make it nearly impossible for Republicans to win a majority in the future, but nearly certain that Democrats will retain a two-thirds supermajority.

On the old maps, Donald Trump won 23 senate districts in 2016 to Hillary Clinton’s 40. On the new maps, Joe Biden won 49 districts to 14 for Donald Trump. On the old map, however, the median seat needed for a majority gave Trump 44% of the vote. By contrast on the new maps, the 22nd most Republican district, the seat Republicans would need to win to break the Democrats’ supermajority, voted for Biden by a margin of 56.58%-41.36%. As for a majority, that would require winning a seat which Biden won 58.75%-38.99%.

Interestingly, New York voters in 2014 passed a constitutional amendment in an effort to remove partisan redistricting from the legislature, creating a bipartisan commission whose decisions could be amended by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature. While Democrats now hold two-thirds majorities, the Amendment “provides that the legislature may only amend the redistricting plan according to the established principles if the commission’s plan is rejected twice by the legislature.” Namely, principles “requiring that districts not be drawn to favor or disfavor any incumbents, particular candidates (including challengers) or political parties.” On this basis, the Republican Party has filed suit, though it is unclear what their prospects will be in a New York Appellate Division compromised of six Cuomo appointees and one Hochul appointee.

If Democrats on the court are consistent with the judges Democrats are cheering in Ohio and North Carolina who have “discovered” a right to “proportionality” in redistricting, then they will have no choice but to honor the clear letter of the amendment, and hence the New York Constitution, by striking down the new maps. That Democrats and the media seem dismissive of the suits is evidence that the principle they are operating under is not really federal. They do not care about proportionality or consistency on any state level, but only about advancing claims against what they feel are “national” structures “biased” against them like the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College, and geography itself. Chief Justice Newby of the North Carolina Supreme Court noted in his dissent this past week that the North Carolina court, in demanding maps which produced proportional outcomes to the statewide vote, was overturning its own 2019 decision which found partisanship could not be used to draw maps. Having discovered in 2020 that Democrats could not win in North Carolina on maps which were not drawn on the basis of partisanship, the Democratic justices were now demanding that partisanship be used to elect the “correct” number of Democrats. It was one more example of the “rule or ruin” approach of the modern Democratic Party.

Republicans have been slow to wake up to the way in which Democratic rhetoric about redistricting this cycle is not merely sour grapes, but an actual assault on the legitimacy of the electoral system and political structure of the country. Democrats have redefined any structure that disadvantages them in any way as discriminatory and illegitimate regardless of whether it is the product of deliberate partisan intent or neutral factors such as where they live. The result is that questions of election fairness come down to whether they produce results for Democrats that are at least equal to those they produce for Republicans. Anything less is illegitimate. More? Well, as in the example of New York State, that is merely cosmic justice.

No less a figure than Donald Trump spoke out this past week about the relative passivity of Republicans during this redistricting cycle. He was joined by Governor Ron DeSantis, who has taken a much more prominent role in Florida’s mapmaking process. They have warned Republicans that Democratic rhetoric about electoral legitimacy is not just words. It is action. And Republicans need to be warned that those words betray a determined power grab, whatever the cost.

Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.  

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Boz
Boz
2 years ago

We are past the point of no return on the Tytler Cycle chart.

Dan W.
Dan W.
2 years ago

The GOP is not as complacent as this article implies. Many GOP state legislatures are in full gerrymandering mode besides Florida (for example, check out Texas and Alabama).

The problem is that in many GOP states, the focus has been to create safer districts for incumbents rather than to establish more competitive districts that we could win two or three Congressional election cycles down the road. (Arguably the Selfishness position on the Tytler Cycle chart.)

We are not doing a good job of looking to the future.

Boz
Boz
2 years ago

We are past the point of no return on the Tytler Cycle chart.

Dan W.
Dan W.
2 years ago

The GOP is not as complacent as this article implies. Many GOP state legislatures are in full gerrymandering mode besides Florida (for example, check out Texas and Alabama).

The problem is that in many GOP states, the focus has been to create safer districts for incumbents rather than to establish more competitive districts that we could win two or three Congressional election cycles down the road. (Arguably the Selfishness position on the Tytler Cycle chart.)

We are not doing a good job of looking to the future.

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