The Origins of the New York Senate Stalemate

The New York Senate remains stymied, with Democrats and Republicans fighting over who controls the chamber. Who is to blame for the 31-31 tie that ...
by | June 29, 2009

The New York Senate remains stymied, with Democrats and Republicans fighting over who controls the chamber. Who is to blame for the 31-31 tie that has paralyzed Albany?

That's easy: The Republicans.

No, I'm not talking about the current Republican leadership. Instead, the New York Times noted something fascinating that happened almost a decade ago, when the Republican-led Senate was conducting legislative redistricting:

In addition, they reduced the pressure to eliminate an upstate district, and made it easier to elect a Republican in Brooklyn, by enlarging the Senate to 62 seats from 61 (unwittingly setting the stage for the current 31-to-31 tie). They did so by invoking an ambiguous provision that a Republican-controlled constitutional convention enacted in 1894 to stem the growing influence of immigrant Democratic voters in New York City and Brooklyn.

Having an even number of members in a legislative body isn't at all unusual. More than half of the nation's state legislative bodies have an even number of members, as does the U.S. Senate (except when Minnesota only has one senator).

No one could have seen this coming. The New York Senate's current conundrum only occurred because of two unlikely events: The Senate happened to tie 31-31 and the state lacked a lieutenant governor to break a tie because of David Paterson's ascension to the governorship.

Still, none of this would be happening if the Senate still had 61 members.

By the way, that New York Times article makes an important point about how population trends in the state are likely to give Democrats a clear Senate majority after the next round of redistricting:

Albany gridlock got you down? Well, worry no longer, the end is in sight -- the State Senate should be back in business by 2013.

An analysis of population shifts since this decade began suggests that Democrats are poised to gain as many as six seats when legislative districts are reapportioned after the 2010 census. That would give them an ample margin to untangle the 31-to-31 tie that has stalemated the Senate for three weeks.

Gerrymandering is a powerful thing, but even a Republican gerrymander can only do so much in a state where Democrats are approaching a 2 to 1 voter registration edge over the G.O.P.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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