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Redistricting in New York City

Members of New York City’s City Council are elected from 51 districts across the city. Every decade, following the census, the districts need to be redrawn to comport with demographic changes and to comply with the constitutional requirement of “one-person, one-vote.”

Published: June 5, 2012

New York City 2013 Redis­trict­ing Calen­darPublic Hear­ing Announce­mentsRedis­trict­ing Criteria  |  NYC Redis­trict­ing Resources  |  NYC Redis­trict­ing News

Members of New York City’s City Coun­cil are elec­ted from 51 districts across the city.  Every decade, follow­ing the census, the districts need to be redrawn to comport with demo­graphic changes and to comply with the consti­tu­tional require­ment of “one-person, one-vote.”

The way the lines are drawn can keep a community together or split it apart, leav­ing it without a repres­ent­at­ive who feels respons­ible for its concerns.  The way the lines are drawn can change who wins an elec­tion. Ulti­mately, the way the lines are drawn can change who controls the city and what laws get passed. 

The New York City Coun­cil is the law-making body of the City of New York. It is comprised of 51 members from 51 differ­ent Coun­cil Districts through­out the five boroughs. The Coun­cil monit­ors the oper­a­tion and perform­ance of city agen­cies, makes land use decisions and has sole respons­ib­il­ity for approv­ing the city’s budget.  As the City’s legis­lat­ive body, the Coun­cil makes and passes the laws govern­ing the city. For example, the Coun­cil passed legis­la­tion on desig­nated smoking areas in public places, campaign finance, anti-apartheid, solid-waste recyc­ling and restric­tions on assault weapons.

New York’s City Coun­cil controls some of the most import­ant aspects of New York­ers daily lives.  How communit­ies and neigh­bor­hoods are repres­en­ted on the Coun­cil makes a differ­ence in how each member votes and the concerns each member brings to the table.  New York has a “strong” mayoral system of govern­ment, but the Mayor does not act alone.  The Mayor can promote laws but the passage of laws and the language of the city’s legis­la­tion arise out of the City Coun­cil.  What the district lines look like for the City of New York has an effect on the qual­ity of life of every New Yorker.

New York’s District­ing Commis­sion

The Mayor (7 members) and Coun­cil lead­ers (8 members) appoint the members of the 15-member District­ing Commis­sion to take on this task.  The Commis­sion works to redraw lines with the data, process, and criteria required by federal law, the 2010 US Census Bureau data, and the New York City Charter.  The Commis­sion appoint­ments should repres­ent members of the racial and language minor­ity groups protec­ted by the Voting Rights Act, in propor­tion to their popu­la­tion in New York City.

After the Commis­sion is fully consti­tuted, Commis­sion Members and their staff will begin meet­ing to review all relev­ant laws, regu­la­tions, and the Census data.  After public hear­ings and meet­ings, the Commis­sion will develop a final plan to submit to the City Coun­cil and ulti­mately to the United States Depart­ment of Justice for preclear­ance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in advance of the 2013 elec­tions.

Follow the links below to learn the latest from NYC community organ­iz­a­tions & research insti­tutes work­ing on Redis­trict­ing.  Also find import­ant demo­graphic data from the US Census Bureau, the 2013 New York City Redis­trict­ing Calen­dar and the redis­trict­ing criteria the District­ing Commis­sion must follow.

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New York City 2013 Redis­trict­ing Calen­dar

June 2012 The Mayor is required to announce Commis­sion appoint­ments by June 5 set Commis­sion meet­ing sched­ule, and estab­lish a screen­ing and selec­tion process for ensur­ing that NYC’s racial and  language minor­ity groups protec­ted by the federal Voting Rights Act, will be fairly repres­en­ted on the Commis­sion.

Septem­ber 2012 Commis­sion makes redis­trict­ing plan avail­able to public for inspec­tion and comment.

Octo­ber 2012 Commis­sion must hold “one or more” public hear­ings about plan.

Novem­ber 2012 Commis­sion submits district plan to City Coun­cil for approval (Nov.5). Coun­cil can form­ally file objec­tions to initial plan. Formal objec­tions from the Coun­cil require a vote passed by a Coun­cil major­ity and are presen­ted to the commis­sion along with a state­ment of the Coun­cil’s objec­tions. Indi­vidual Coun­cil member objec­tions separ­ate from the Coun­cil’s formal objec­tions that are filed by this date are also passed on, either with the formal objec­tion or inde­pend­ently (Nov 26).

Janu­ary 2013 Commis­sion submits revised plan for public and Coun­cil inspec­tion and comment (if Coun­cil has form­ally filed objec­tions to plan). The commis­sion is respons­ible to organ­ize public hear­ings to seek public comment on revised plan.

March 2013 Commis­sion submits a final plan, follow­ing consid­er­a­tion of the public and Coun­cil comments, to the Coun­cil for approval. Coun­cil submits final plan to the Depart­ment of Justice for preclear­ance.

July 2013 Candid­ate peti­tion­ing process for inclu­sion on voting ballot begins. Peti­tions must be signed by 5% of the district or 900 indi­vidu­als, whichever figure is less.

Septem­ber 2013 Primary Elec­tion (Sept. 10).

Novem­ber 2013 General Elec­tion (Nov. 5). 

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Announce­ments of Public Meet­ings and Hear­ings for Redis­trict­ing in NYC


Wednes­day, Febru­ary 6th 6:00PM
New York Law School
185 West Broad­way
New York, NY 10013

The NYC District­ing Commis­sion will hold a meet­ing on Thursday, Febru­ary 6th, 2012. This meet­ing is open to the public, but will not provide an oppor­tun­ity for public testi­mony.

The meet­ing loca­tions are access­ible to those with phys­ical disab­il­it­ies.  Indi­vidu­als request­ing an inter­preter for sign language or any other language at any hear­ing should contact the NYC District­ing Commis­sion at hear­ing­s@dis­trict­ or by call­ing 212–442–0256 five days in advance of the meet­ing, and reas­on­able efforts will be made to accom­mod­ate such requests.

Click here to down­load the staff memor­andum

The full sched­ule of hear­ings is avail­able at­ings/meet­ings.shtml

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Redis­trict­ing Criteria

The US Consti­tu­tion and federal stat­utes limit where the lines can be drawn. In most states, the state consti­tu­tion also imposes certain limits. And even when there are few legal limits, those with the pen use certain prin­ciples to guide where the lines should be drawn, each of which has its own tradeoffs. Redis­trict­ing author­it­ies consider some or all of the follow­ing criteria when decid­ing where the lines should be drawn:

• Equal popu­la­tion
• Minor­ity repres­ent­a­tion
• Conti­gu­ity
• Compact­ness
• Polit­ical bound­ar­ies
• Communit­ies of interest
• Elect­oral outcomes

More inform­a­tion from the Bren­nan Center on Redis­trict­ing Criteria.

The District­ing Commis­sion for the City of New York must use the follow­ing criteria in determ­in­ing the City Coun­cil lines:   

  1. Popu­la­tion. The differ­ence between the most popu­lous and the least popu­lous coun­cil district must not exceed 10% of the aver­age popu­la­tion for all coun­cil districts. Any such differ­ences in popu­la­tion must be justi­fied by one or more of the other criteria stated in the City Charter. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(a) (2004)
  2. Fair and effect­ive repres­ent­a­tion. The redis­trict­ing plan must be estab­lished in a manner that ensures the fair and effect­ive repres­ent­a­tion of the racial and language minor­ity groups in New York City which are protec­ted by the Voting Rights Act. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(1)(b) (2004).
  3. Communit­ies of Interest. District lines should keep intact neigh­bor­hoods and communit­ies with estab­lished ties of common interest and asso­ci­ation, whether histor­ical, racial, economic, ethnic, reli­gious or other. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(1)(c) (2004).
  4.  Compact­ness. Each district must be compact and cannot be more than twice as long as it is wide. The redis­trict­ing plan must be estab­lished in a manner that minim­izes the sum of the length of the bound­ar­ies of all of the districts included in the plan. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(1) (d)(g) (2004).
  5. Conti­gu­ity. Each district must be contigu­ous, and whenever a part of a district is separ­ated from the rest of the district by a body of water, there must be a connec­tion by a bridge, a tunnel, a tram­way or by regu­lar ferry service. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(2) (2004).
  6. Polit­ical bound­ar­ies. A district cannot cross borough or county bound­ar­ies. If any district includes territ­ory in two boroughs, then no other district may also include territ­ory from the same two boroughs. N.Y. CITY CHARTER, ch. 2-A, Section 52(3) (2004).

New York City Charter, ch.2-A, Section 52(1) (2004)

Approval of Redis­trict­ing Plan

Once the Commis­sion presents a plan to the City Coun­cil, the plan is adop­ted unless the City Coun­cil passes a resol­u­tion object­ing to the plan.


In New York City, New York County (Manhat­tan), Kings County (Brook­lyn) and Bronx County are covered juris­dic­tions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.   As a “covered” juris­dic­tion, the City of New York must submit its redis­trict­ing plan to the federal govern­ment – either the Depart­ment of Justice or a three-judge panel of the District Court for Wash­ing­ton DC – to obtain “preclear­ance” or approval of its plan once it is determ­ined that the new districts do not weaken the voting strength of the racial and ethnic minor­it­ies in the covered counties. The plan may not go into effect until approval or “preclear­ance” is received from the federal govern­ment. 

New district plans will be precleared if they were not passed with the purpose of dilut­ing the voting power racial and language minor­ity voters and they leave racial and language minor­ity voters no worse off than they were before the redis­trict­ing.  To determ­ine if a district is no worse off, the federal govern­ment will use the old district lines with the new popu­la­tion data. The Depart­ment of Justice issued new guid­ance in Febru­ary 2011 about how Section 5 cases would be considered.  For example, under Section 5, minor­ity losses in one region of a covered juris­dic­tion may be compensated by gains else­where, but if minor­ity popu­la­tions have fewer oppor­tun­it­ies to elect candid­ates of choice, the new districts will not be approved.

Inter­ested members of the public and community organ­iz­a­tions can, and often do, submit comment letters to the DOJ request­ing the DOJ to approve or deny preclear­ance.

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Useful Resources for Citizen Engage­ment in City of New York Redis­trict­ing

 New York City Community Organ­iz­a­tions Active in Redis­trict­ing

 Get the Data

  • Create Your Own Coun­cil Map
    The New York City District­ing Commis­sion, along with Maptitude Soft­ware, have developed a tool that allows citizens to create and submit thier own map of City Coun­cil Districts. Register and draw your own Coun­cil Map. Instruc­tional videos are avail­able here.
  • The Unity Map – Redis­trict­ing for Fair Repres­ent­a­tion
    The Asian-Amer­ican Legal Defense and Educa­tion Fund (AALDEF) together with the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, Latino­Justice PRLDEF, and the National Insti­tute for Latino Policy have developed a “Unity Map,” to provide up-to-date repres­ent­a­tion of NYC’s communit­ies of color.
  • CUNY’s Center for Urban Research, NYC Coun­cil Maps
    Block by block demo­graphic changes & NYC Coun­cil districts, 2000 to 2010.
  • Strength in Numbers, U.S. Census Bureau
    2010 Report from the U.S. Census Bureau, explains where census numbers come from and the role those numbers have in the way states and local­it­ies redraw the bound­ar­ies of their legis­lat­ive districts.
  • Fact­Finder – New York City, U.S. Census Bureau
    A compre­hen­isve source for popu­la­tion, hous­ing, economic, and geograph­ical census data for NYC.  Also avail­able from the Census Bureau are Quick Facts on the City of New York from the 2010 census.
  • Willi­ams Insti­tute
  • The Willi­ams Insti­tute at UCLA has the most compre­hens­ive inform­a­tion on LGBT popu­la­tion distri­bu­tion and census data.  The last census snap­shot for the City of New York is from the 2000 Census.  Avail­able data from the US Census Bureau on Same-Sex Couples is avail­able here.

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New York City Redis­trict­ing News

Mayor Bloomberg Announces Appoint­ments to District­ing Commis­sion (NYC Press Release)

Redis­trict­ing the NYC Coun­cil: A Battle We Must Fight (New Amer­ica Media)

Brook­lyn Asian, Latino Groups Huddle With Common Cause Before Coun­cil Redis­trict­ing Meet (New York Daily News)

‘Unity’ Coali­tion Has Some Ideas for City Coun­cil Redis­trict­ing (Politicker)

Redis­trict Remix: Gerry­man­der­ing Issue Taken Up By Queens Rapper and Punj­abi Proteges (New York Observer)

At Hear­ings, Redis­trict­ing Process Calls For Fair­ness (Queens Gazette)

NYC’s Prelim­in­ary Redrawn District Map Released (The Epoch Times)

Map | City Coun­cil Prepares for Redis­trict­ing (WNYC)

The Unity Map and City Coun­cil Redis­trict­ing (Gotham Gazette)

Final District Lines Draw Praise, Criti­cism (Queens Tribune)

Boro Groups Blast New Coun­cil Lines (Queens Times Ledger)

What The Next City Coun­cil Will Likely Look Like (Gotham Gazette)

Redis­trict­ing Out: East Harlem’s New District Lines Split Community (City and State New York)

City Coun­cil Redis­trict­ing Map Arises Anger, Contro­versy Among Civic Lead­ers (Queens Chron­icle)

The Legal Argu­ment for Quin­n’s Redis­trict­ing Move (Crain’s New York Busi­ness)

Quinn Asks Commis­sion to Re-Do District Lines (Crain’s New York Busi­ness)

In New York City, Redis­trict­ing Lines May be With­drawn Because of Currop­tion (The Epoch Times)

What is Going on With Redis­trict­ing? A Primer (Gotham Gazette)

District­ing Commis­sion Releases Dates for Third Round of City­wide Public Hear­ings (NYC District­ing Commis­sion Press Release)

Commis­sion Approves Final Coun­cil District Lines (DNA Info)

New City Coun­cil District Maps Approved by District­ing Commis­sion (Queens Chron­icle)

District­ing Commis­sion Adopts Revised City­wide District­ing Plan (NYC District­ing Commis­sion Press Release)

District­ing Commis­sion Sends New Maps to DOJ (Gotham Gazette)

City Coun­cil District Maps Final­ized (Queens Chron­icle)

City Submits Plans for Redis­trict­ing (The Wall Street Journal)

District­ing Commis­sion Files Final District­ing Plan to the City Clerk (NYC District­ing Commis­sion Press Release)

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