Democrats Blew Their Big Opportunity to Make New York Winnable in 2024

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After over a year in court, millions of dollars on lawyers’ fees, an overhaul of the state’s highest court, and an all-out battle to throw out New York’s congressional districts and replace them with something more favorable for Democrats, the New York legislature, empowered with the ability to flip control of the House single-handedly, voted to confirm new maps, signed by the governor into law. The result: The number of Trump-won districts in the state has officially increased from five to six.

Read that again. Not a typo! The most anticipated Democratic gerrymander of the 2024 election cycle has resulted with Democrats—wielding supermajority control of the Legislature and a newly enshrined liberal majority on the state’s highest court—actually increasing the number of congressional districts in areas won by a Republican in 2020. They made swing districts like NY-01 even redder, likely putting them out of reach for Democrats. (Swingy NY-19, too, is ever so slightly redder than before.) The new map is barely distinguishable from the 2022 map that contributed to New York Democrats’ disastrous midterms performance and gave the Republicans the House majority.

Democrats managed to make two districts meaningfully bluer: NY-03, which Democrat Tom Suozzi already won handily just a few weeks ago, and NY-22, which was won by Republican Brandon Williams by less than a point. Williams was already the most vulnerable Republican on the map; these changes don’t affect the likely outcomes of these races at all. 

Still, politics watchers guessed that a redraw could net Dems as many as five seats in November; now they expect Dems to add half of one. Congressional Republicans can barely contain their glee.

How did we get here? In early 2022, the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission deadlocked, unable to agree on nonpartisan congressional maps. So the commission sent two separate mockups to the Legislature, which voted both down; the IRC then missed a deadline to fix them. The Democratic-controlled Legislature then drew up its own version, which Republicans hated, and the court’s conservative majority, installed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, agreed. The court directed an out-of-state special master to draw the maps for 2022. When Democrats face-planted in November 2022, losing four Biden districts to Republicans, they claimed that the maps were to blame, a storyline that conveniently distracted from the thoroughgoing institutional decay of the state Democratic party, which lacks basic organizing and turnout infrastructure.

So they brought a case against those maps, claiming that they were valid only for 2022. The Court of Appeals, with a new liberal majority—you can read here about how Gov. Kathy Hochul nearly botched that one—was amenable. Procedural necessity required that the IRC get one more shot, but it barely changed the 2022 maps, seemingly resigned to the fact that the Dem Legislature would be drawing its own version. The state Senate and even Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries came out strongly against the low-effort revision. I thought this was so in the bag that I wrote a piece proclaiming as much.

Then came the reveal: a map that was basically identical to the voted-down IRC do-over, which was basically identical to the reviled 2022 maps. Democrats literally could have drawn a map with 26 Biden districts and zero Trump districts and tried their hand before the state’s newly liberal highest court. Instead, they went from a 21–5 Biden to a 20–6 Biden configuration. The Legislature hastily voted it through, and Hochul signed it into law.

New York Republicans can’t believe their great luck. Republican House Rep. Nicole Malliotakis posted her new district lines on X beneath the caption “Hello, Gorgeous.” “New York’s 17th District remains largely unchanged,” GOPer Mike Lawler tweeted with glee. Republicans, who were almost certainly going to sue over the Legislature’s map, and were preemptively crying foul, announced upon seeing it that they would bring no legal contest. Numerous state Republicans across both chambers voted in favor.

The Alabama and Louisiana Republican Parties, both of whom were compelled by courts to redraw their own lines, adding a Democratic district in the process, will have officially done more to help Democrats retake the House in 2024 than the New York Democratic Party, its Senate supermajority, and its packed court (AL Republicans had their state’s final map foisted upon them by the court).

Charitably, New York Democrats were probably afraid that if Republicans sued successfully, a court could redraw the map with no solicitude for Democratic incumbents. They were trying to protect themselves, with little concern for national Democrats. But if Republicans had sued to thwart a gerrymander and won, the cost would have been minimal: The Legislature would merely have to try again. Instead, it didn’t even try, choosing instead to shore up its individual fates at the expense of the party broadly. New York Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and that truth is etched into this map. What was the point of flipping the court, of bringing the lawsuit, of all of it?

“It’s absolutely astonishing. We’ve seen how feckless NY Dems have been in so many ways for so many years—decades, really—so I’m disgusted more than I am surprised,” said David Nir, publisher of Daily Kos Elections, which closely tracks redistricting efforts. “If it’s better than the ’22 map, it’s barely any better.”

Jeffries could well have sewn up his first speakership with even a modest gerrymander. One would think he would be furious over the missed opportunity and the wasted resources in his very own home state. But no: His official statement was supportive of the map, saying it “delivers the type of fair representation that the people of New York State deserve.”

Jeffries cheered the maps on the puzzling grounds that they reduce the number of “split counties” (counties flayed and parceled out into separate congressional districts). But as Nir pointed out, the number of split counties is dramatically higher on the new map than on the reviled 2022 map. That version had only 16 splits; the new map has 21!

Let’s compare, for a moment, New York Democrats to North Carolina Republicans. There, the state GOP flipped the court, which promptly overturned the previously liberal court’s ruling on gerrymandering, threw out the maps, and redrew a wild gerrymander. The state went from a 7R–7D split, to an 11R–3D map basically overnight. “If a GOP House minority leader was from a state that had an opportunity to deliver majority control, he would tell his incumbents to suck it up for the good of the party nationally,” said Nir. Instead, Democrats have recommitted to fighting with one hand tied behind their back. “Republicans never behave this way,” he added.

So here we are, back to square one. House Democrats are comforting themselves with the fact that the party has allocated some $45 million to boost the congressional campaigns on Dems in six swing districts in New York, which is supposed to paper over the weakness of the state party apparatus and, now, the unfavorable district lines. Never mind the fact that outside Democratic groups spent almost a third of that on just one recent race, New York’s 3rd Congressional District, that will have to be reproduced and defended, alongside at least five others in November.

If Jeffries comes up a seat or two short of a majority in November’s election, an entirely plausible outcome, he’ll have nowhere to look but at his home state, and no one to point the finger at but himself.