With the redrawing of district maps for 2012 New York will lose 2 congressional seats.
While the process that will be used for redrawing is currently being battled out and the final results of that battle completely unknown the odds are that an incumbency protection plan will be agreed upon by the Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats and signed by the Democratic Governor. This plan will likely be one in which one upstate republican held district and one downstate democratic held district will be dismantled.
Given that assumption, what is the impact of the NY-26 special election on redistricting?
Some have speculated that NY-26 will "go away" with redistricting. This is not the case. NY-26, in some shape, form and number, will continue to exist after redistricting.
1. the population of western New York is such that it will continue to be home to four districts as is currently the case.
2. due to the larger size of districts (717,707 rather than the current 654,360) these districts will expand more towards the central part of the state.
3. based on the predominantly democratic populations of Buffalo and Rochester, at least two of those districts will be democratic-friendly.
4. two of those districts, based in the rural areas of Erie and Monroe Counties and the rest of the rural counties of western New York, can easily be drawn as republican-friendly districts.
5. every angle I can imagine points at central New York's NY-25 district currently held by Ann Marie Buerkle being the one dismantled. She is the weakest republican rep. She was not really supported by the Republican Party in 2010. She is in the strongest democratic district held by a Republican. Her fund raising is non-existent. She barely won... 567 votes... in 2010. Dan Maffei is already preparing for a rematch. If the Republicans are going to have to give up a seat they may as well give up the one they will probably lose anyhow and work instead to preserve and strengthen the districts they are likely to hold.
6. it is entirely possible to draw western New York with three democratic-friendly districts and only one republican-friendly district.
Maps on the flip.
The current western New York map looks like this:
The grey district in the middle is NY-26. It is very rural and voted for McCain 52% - 46.5%.
The lavender district across the top that stretches from Louise Slaughter's home in Fairport outside Rochester to downtown Buffalo is NY-28 which voted for Obama 68.3% - 30.5%. This district is a prime example of gerrymandering as it was drawn to pack as many Democrats into one district as possible. It is consequently a district that could be divvied up to give democratic votes to strengthen another district.
The green district to the lower left is NY-27 held by Brian Higgins. It voted for Obama 54.3% - 43.9%.
The more olive drab colored green district along the southern edge of the state, only partially shown here, is NY-29. It voted for Obama 50.5% - 48.2%.
Lastly, NY-25 is the district partially shown in pink across the top right. It stretches from the outskirts of Rochester towards Syracuse.
There are many ways to carve up a state. What I show below are three possible outcomes amongst many. I use them simply to illustrate the difference that winning or losing the May 24 special election in NY-26 can make.
If Jane Corwin (or Jack Davis) wins the special election the map for 2012 and the next decade might look like something like this:
Partially shown on the map is the new NY-24 in purple. It is very similar to the current NY-29. This newly drawn district would have voted for McCain 51.7% - 46.9%.
The new NY-25 district in pink mimics the current NY-26. This newly drawn district would have voted for McCain 53.3% - 45.3%.
Slaughter's new NY-26 (former NY-28) in grey at the top is again a packed district returning a 65.7% - 33.1% Obama victory.
Lastly, the new NY-27 is again in green at the bottom left. It returns a 56.7% - 41.6% Obama victory.
Two strong democratic districts. Two republican friendly districts.
The good news for Democrats is that this is really as good as it gets for Republicans. You might eke out an additional percentage point but 51 and 53% is about as strong as it gets for them even upstate.
However, should Kathy Hochul win in NY-26 an incumbency protection plan including a Democrat in that district might look something like this:
Working backwards, the green district in the lower left hand is NY-27 held by Brian Higgins. This newly drawn district would have returned a 57.4% - 40.9% Obama victory.
The new NY-26 in grey at the top mimic's much of Louise Slaughter's old NY-28 but does not stretch as far east as Slaughter's home in Fairport. This new district would have returned a 57.1% - 41.6% Obama victory.
Kathy Hochul currently lives in Hamburg, Erie County which is in Higgins district. Higgins lives somewhere in Buffalo but I don't know where. If Kathy Hochul wins the special election she will likely move into her new district. With a slight adjustment of the lines in Buffalo Higgins could be placed in the more northerly of these two districts and Hochul could stay in Hamburg and represent the more southerly district or Higgins could stay put and Hochul could move more north rather than west into her district.
The new NY-25 is the pink district stretching from Rochester, including Louise Slaughter's home in Fairport, to Syracuse. If they can stretch a district from Fairport to Buffalo they can more naturally stretch it to Syracuse. This district would have returned a 57.2% - 41.4% Obama victory.
The new NY-24 in purple covers much of the current NY-26 and NY-29 districts and becomes a very strong Republican district returning a 55.1% - 43.4% McCain victory.
You can see from this map that without varying much at all from what our current map looks like you can create three democratic-friendly districts in western (and west-central) New York. The major change is not packing so many Democrats from Rochester and Buffalo into the same district and instead packing more of the rural Republican areas into a combined NY26/NY29 district.
The effect of a Hochul victory combined with an incumbency protection map is that Republicans effectively lose 2 districts and Democrats get to lock in one of these districts for the decade to come.
Lastly, should a truly independent redistricting committee following the well crafted guidelines laid out in Mike Gianaris's bill create our next map it will likely look something like this:
Note however, that even following strict compact, contiguous redistricting rules such as in Gianaris' bill there are still many, many variations that can be followed.
In this map NY-27 in green would be home to Higgins (and Hochul) and would have returned a 53.6% - 44.7% Obama victory.
NY-26 in grey would be home to no current rep (but would be home to Corwin) and would have returned a 55.0% - 43.4% Obama victory.
NY-25 in pink would be home to no current rep and would have returned a 57.5% - 41.2% Obama victory.
NY-24 in purple would be home to Louise Slaughter and Tom Reed (current Republican rep in NY-29) and would have returned a 48.3% - 50.3% McCain victory.
A few notes on the maps and the percentages used in this post. Dave's Redistricting Tool was used to create the maps. Dave's application has been updated with the new census numbers but is in the process of being further updated to include the 2008 election results that had previously been combined with the old population statistics. These maps were created twice. Once to create districts using the correct population statistics. A second time using the old version (recreating the first set of maps) in order to derive the 2008 election results for the new maps. As shapes used between the two maps are not exact these maps were then edited to match each other with the election result percentages then derived from the edited old versions. For consistencies sake I recreated the current district maps on Dave's application and derived the 2008 election results statistics from there. I have not gone back to verify if they match exactly those from the Board of Elections or reported elsewhere. If you note any discrepancies... don't worry about it.