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Following the decennial nationwide census, the New York City Charter mandates that the City Council and the Mayor appoint a Districting Commission to redraw council district boundaries to reflect population and demographic changes. In the coming year, the Districting Commission will have to draw new borders in a city that has undergone significant demographic shifts in the past 10 years.

 

*** Citizens Union offers free trainings and informative materials on Council Redistricting for community groups across the city – click here to contact us ***

 

Overview of the redistricting process 

In New York City, City Council districts are not drawn by lawmakers themselves but by a special commission called the Districting Commission. The members of the Commission are appointed by the mayor and by the Democrats and Republicans serving on the City Council, but once appointed, the commissioners act independently of the political figures who appointed them. Commissioners must follow specific legal criteria that guide how boundaries are drawn, and they have to ask for feedback on every proposed map. The City Council can object to the first plan the Commission submits and send it back for a revision. Once the Commission approves a revised, final plan, neither Council Members nor the mayor can legally change the maps. The process takes about ten months, but the new districts remain in place for ten years.

Click here to read Citizens Union Foundation’s report on the 2022 Council Redistricting Process 

UPDATE: The Districting Commission will hold one citywide preliminary hearing before releasing its first draft maps, on Thursday, May 26, at 3 pm. Individuals can testify in person or remotely and can also submit written testimonies. See more info and sign up to speak remotely here.

 

New York City Council Members hold unique powers to directly impact the communities they represent, in ways that state senators or assembly members cannot. Each Council Member gets to decide how to spend about $5 million in capital funds annually, to be spent on improvements to the district like construction in schools or playgrounds. The Council Member can also spend about $500,000 to help non-profit groups in the district. By tradition, the Council Member is given great deference in Council decisions on rezoning plans in their district. Their opinion on other land-use decisions also carries weight. And they serve as their constituents’ voice in city government.

Those broad discretionary powers to impact a neighborhood’s built environment and civic institutions highlight how important it is for communities to be truly represented by their Council Member. A redistricting process that leaves communities unfairly partitioned would lead to communities being unfairly ignored. Indeed, splitting communities into a few different political districts often leads to reduced public investment and services in education, health, and other areas. Divided communities are found in all five boroughs, but population change over the decade years has exacerbated the situation in areas like south Brooklyn and Southeast Queens.

The Districting Commission is made up of 15 members.  The majority conference in the City Council appoints five members – one from every borough. The minority conference in the City Council appoints three members – residents of three different boroughs. The mayor appoints seven members, and in making the final appointments, the mayor needs to ensure the Commission as a whole abides by legal standards on representation and party composition. Once appointed, the 15 commissioners elect their own chair, hire an Executive Director and start recruiting staff. The City Charter places some requirements to the composition of the Commission. For example, racial and minority groups protected by the 1965 Voting Rights Act must be adequately represented on the Commission, roughly proportional to the city’s demographics. Commissioners cannot be government employees, political party officials, or registered lobbyists. The Commission cannot have a majority of commissioners who are enrolled in the same party. See a list of current commissioners here.

The Commission is obligated to redraw district boundaries based on legal requirements set by the U.S. Constitution, federal law, state law, and the City Charter. The Council districting plan must:

  • Abide by “one-person, one-vote”. The U.S. Constitution requires legislative districts to have roughly equal population size. Under New York State law, the difference between the least populous and the most populous Council district cannot exceed 5%. 
  • Protect minority vote. The 1965 federal Voting Rights Act forbids the new district maps from diluting the voting power of racial and language minority groups. The City Charter also includes a similar provision that ensures “fair and effective representation” for minority groups.
  • Have only contiguous districts. According to the Charter, each council district must be contiguous, and if parts of a district are separated by a body of water there must be a bridge, a tunnel, a tramway or regular ferry service connecting the areas.
  • Not have more than one crossover district per set of two boroughs. The Charter states that a district shall not cross borough or county boundaries, “to the greatest extent possible”. If there is need to create a district that crosses two boroughs, as has been the case in previous redistricting cycles, then it may only occur once per set of boroughs.

The Charter lists the following redistricting criteria but prioritizes them and provides the commission some wiggle room by noting criteria must be followed “to the maximum extent practicable”. The districting plan should follow these rules, prioritized in the order in which they are listed:

  • Keep neighborhoods and communities of interest intact. One of the most important criteria for drawing new maps, which is used by New Yorkers that testify before the Commission, requires district lines to keep intact neighborhoods and communities of interest, meaning communities “with established ties of common interest and association, whether historical, racial, economic, ethnic, religious or other.” Neighborhoods include uninhabited places uniquely connected to the community, like a waterfront. And communities could be defined by various common factors, like country of origin, broadcast and print media, employment, schools, and public transportation. However, final maps can split communities of interests if that is necessary to comply with “one person, one vote” or Voting Rights Act criteria.
  • Keep districts compact. Each district shall be compact, such that no district is drawn to be more than twice as long as it is wide.
  • Prevent partisan gerrymandering. Districts cannot be drawn in order to diminish the effective representation of voters enrolled in the same political party. This refers to intentional discrimination against a group of party voters. An actual effect of diluting their vote does not need to be shown
  • Avoid oddly shaped districts. The districting plan as a whole should be compact – it should minimize the total length of district boundaries. This is meant to prevent “strange” and non-standard shapes of districts, which are often indicative of gerrymandering.

For more information on the redistricting criteria and procedures, click here to read Citizens Union Foundation’s report on the 2022 Council Redistricting Process  

New York City’s redistricting process is different from New York State’s congressional and state legislative redistricting. It is run by a different commission that follows a different set of rules. Unlike what happened at the state level, where the legislature ultimately took control over the maps - and the courts then invalidated the plans – the City Council has no authority to veto the final maps that the City Districting Commission submits. So long as the commission votes to approve the maps, they will be adopted, and the City Council has no power to change them. This guarantees a level of independence from legislators that did not exist at the state level. In addition, while state-level redistricting happened under a whole new set of rules and processes, New York City has been using the same process to redraw Council lines for three decades. Citizen input can, and often does, have sway on ultimate district lines. Previous commissions have provided justifications for every district, showing how map-drawers accommodated what they heard from the public during testimonies.
  • April: The Districting Commission holds its first meeting
  • May: Preliminary round of public hearings – not mandatory, but likely 
  • June 7: Deadline for the Districting Commission to present a draft of the first redistricting plan to the public
  • July: First round of public hearings, feedback on the draft of the plan
  • August 7: Deadline for Districting Commission to submit the first redistricting plan to the City Council
  • August: New maps are it is automatically adopted unless the Council votes to object to them within three weeks. If the City Council objects to the maps, the Commission starts work on a revised plan 
  • October 7: Deadline for the Districting Commission to make its revised redistricting plan available to the public
  • October of November 2022: Second round of public hearings, feedback on the draft of the revised plan
  • December 7: Districting Commission must submit its second and final redistricting plan to the City Council. The Council cannot object to the second, final plan, which is formally adopted after it is properly filed with the city clerk. 

 

Make your voice heard

Citizens Union Trainings

With the support of the New York Community Trust, Citizens Union Foundation is offering free trainings and resources to community groups all over the city to help New Yorkers engage in the Council redistricting process. The training includes information on:

  1. The basics of Council redistricting.
  2. Why engaging in the Council redistricting process is important.
  3. An overview of the process and the criteria used to draw the maps.
  4. How to look at and create your own maps.
  5. How to testify before the Council’s Districting Commission.
  6. The essential elements of an effective testimony.

We would be more than happy to tailor the content of our training to meet the needs your group. We can offer a short presentation (i.e. a ten minute basic overview), a full length 75 minute presentation, or anything in between.

The deadline for the Districting Commission to release the first draft of maps is June 7th, and public hearings to comment on those maps will be held in July. In preparation for that, we are holding trainings in April, May, and June. We also will continue to hold trainings throughout the entirety of 2022, as necessary. We can hold trainings in person or on zoom, and can be flexible in regards to time and day to best accommodate your needs.

If you would like to schedule a free training, please contact [email protected]

Trainings Calendar

may, 2022

 

Recorded full length trainings 

Resources

NYC demographic data: Use NYC Population FactFinder, a tool by the Department of Planning that allows you to create study areas and examine associated population data showing the latest demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics, and how these characteristics have changed over time. 

Find your Council District: Use this City Council page to find your current council member, district number, and district boundaries. Simply type in your address in the search bar. Once your council member pops up, you can click their name to see your district boundaries and learn more about your Council Member.

See how your Council District changed: This summary of Council District profiles (pdf) by the NYC Department of Planning shows basic demographic and housing characteristics for every Council District, based on the results of the 2020 Census, and how it has changed since the 2010 Census. More Census-based analysis can be found here.

Create your own maps: You can draw your own proposed Council District map using tools like Representable and Google’s MyMaps service.

Go to the Districting Commission’s website: The website can be found here.

Learn how the current districts were drawn: You can read the summary memorandum (pdf) of the 2012-2013 Districting Commission, with an explanation for every district. The different maps and considered by that Commission, and the old lines, are found in this map archive.

 

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