ALBANY — Gerrymandering is a term being thrown around as of late, especially by those who oppose the redistricting plans authored by the New York Independent Redistricting Commission.
The G-word refers to an act by the legislature to remap districts that favors a particular party or social class. The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center out of Washington, D.C. calls it an act involving either “cracking” or “packing.”
“Partisan gerrymandering is always carried out by cracking a party’s supporters among many districts, in which their preferred candidates lose by relatively narrow margins; and/or by packing a party’s backers in a few districts, in which their preferred candidates win by enormous margins,” the organization states as it defines efficiency gap.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center is dedicated to advancing democracy through law and fighting for every American’s rights to responsive government and a fair opportunity to participate in and affect the democratic process.
The goal for a fair remapping of districts is to create an equal distribution of party representation among registered voters. There is also the need to balance socioeconomic groups within the proposed territories as well. Anything less would be inefficient.
Cracking and packing are each a matter of perspective. Cracking occurs when breaking down a group of voters against one party, while packing favors the other party for success.
The efficiency gap was created by University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos. His measurement was used to argue against Wisconsin’s redistricting plans before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.
In that case, state Democrats argued a Republican-led legislature remapped districts in 2011 to favor future GOP victories. The Campaign Legal Center’s PlanScore project calculated an efficiency gap in all three houses — the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly — that favored Republicans by as much as 11 percent.
New York’s plans for redistricting have also been evaluated.
The Campaign Legal Center sees a 2.1 percent efficiency gap determining New York races for the U.S. House of Representatives based on the redistricting plans submitted by the independent advisory committee. That’s enough to favor Democrats in 60 percent of predicted scenarios.
While there is more balance within the State Senate (a 0.1 percent gap favoring Democrats), Republicans show a marginal advantage within the State Assembly. In the state’s lower house, there is a 1.2 percent gap that the Campaign Legal Center says favors Republicans in 63 percent of predicted scenarios.
Regardless of perspective, even Wisconsin’s alleged packing attempts survived in court when in 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled federal courts didn’t have the power to decide. The court ruled 5-4, stating “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Nonetheless, New York Republicans filed a lawsuit last week, arguing that the new congressional maps violate the 2014 state constitutional amendment intended to protect against gerrymandering.