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.
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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dc/html/meetings/meetings.shtml
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
• 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:
- 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)
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
Useful Resources for Citizen Engagement in City of New York Redistricting
- The Brennan Center’s newly-updated “A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting”
Includes helpful state-specific information on all things redistricting. Copies of the Citizen’s Guide are available by request here.
- NY City Council Redistricting Commission Page
Check in here for updates to New York City’s newly created Districting Commission.
- The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s “The Impact of Redistricting in Your Community”
Provides easy-to-understand information about the importance of public input in the redistricting process, with a special emphasis on why the involvement of the minority community is so critical.
- Latinos and NYC Council Redistricting 2012
This report by the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP) provides an introduction to the process and issues involved for the Latino community in order to promote its full participation in the districting of the New York City Council. This report contains basic demographic and political data, as well as information on New York City districting process.
- As the New York City Council redistricting process begins, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) will propose new district lines that reflect the City’s Asian American population growth. This is their fact sheet describing the important facts related to New York City’s Redistricting process.
New York City Community Organizations Active in Redistricting
- Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, (AALDEF)
- Center for Law and Social Justice, CUNY
- Citizens Redistricting New York
- Citizens Union of the City of New York
- Common Cause
- Community Voices Heard
- League of Women Voters of the City of New York
- Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, (MALDEF)
- New York Public Interest Research Group, (NYPIRG)
- Redrawing the Lines
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.
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)
At Hearings, Redistricting Process Calls For Fairness (Queens Gazette)
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)
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)
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)
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)