The Broome County Legislature has a new district map, but the debate may be far from over.
Lawmakers approved Map 3 Tuesday night in a 9-6 cross-party vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed to the new legislative boundaries that will be in place for the next decade.
Several Democrats have suggested the county could be open to a lawsuit challenging the legality of Map 3.
“I believe the ad hoc committee as well as the legislature have given the people of Broome County no choice but to take the county government to court and force them to abide by state law,” he said. said District 15 Legislator Mark Whalen. “It’s something I hate, but it’s a viable option.”
The vote was originally scheduled for last Thursday, but Whalen asked that the matter be postponed until the next meeting of the legislature. It happened Tuesday night during another special session called by President Daniel J. Reynolds. Democrats proposed Tuesday to table Map 3 and send it back to the ad hoc redistricting committee for review, but were defeated 10-5.
Reynolds pushed back against the claim that Map 3 was the result of gerrymandering. The new map closely follows the current borders, which were approved by a single dissenting vote ten years ago.
“Reasonable people can look at the exact same information and come away with two different conclusions, but what I don’t see is evidence to support the conclusions that are being drawn regarding gerrymandering or that these districts are somehow unfair They just aren’t,” Reynolds said. “I’ve looked at these districts and I’m extremely knowledgeable about the statistics and I’m struggling to find one area where I find these districts to be unrepresentative or unfair. .
“Are they perfect? No. You’re asking for a standard, if so, it doesn’t exist in districting.”
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Population shift in Broome County impacted redistricting
The county undertakes the redistricting process once a decade after the census results. The 2020 count forced some changes to the district map as Broome County lost around 1% of its overall population, with the decline mostly concentrated in rural areas. The county’s population centers, on the other hand, have seen modest gains since 2010.
This dichotomy has helped fuel a divide between urban and rural areas as new maps have been drawn in recent months.
“We gained population in the urban core. In the Tri-Cities area, we gained 1-2% in the City of Binghamton, Johnson City and the Village of Endicott, but our districts haven’t changed at all to reflect that,” said Susan Ryan, a Democrat representing the 11th district. . “If you look at the population of Broome County, more than half of the residents live in the Triple Towns and Union Town. This means that more than half of our representatives should be there. It is a fundamental element of our democracy.
Critics attacked Map 3 for dividing the city of Maine into three different districts. Maine City Supervisor Jim Tokos, a Democrat, opposed the decision in Thursday’s public hearing.
“We should be a separate entity,” Tokos said. “We have nothing in common with Endicott. Being split into three lanes, north of Maine, then two in Endicott, makes no sense to me.
Democrats offered an alternative to Map 3, Map 1, which did not divide the city of Maine. Map 1 drew criticism from Republicans for breaking up communities of interest and diluting population centers in rural Broome County. A particular point of contention was Map 1’s decision to move the town of Barker to another district, separating it from Lisle, Whitney Point, Nanticoke and other parts of northern Broome County.
District 9 Legislator Matt Hilderbrant noted that three-quarters of Barker is covered by the Whitney Point School District.
“Geographically and culturally speaking, the nature of the town of Barker reflects the characteristics of towns in northern Broome,” said Hilderbrant, who added that Map 1 grouped Barker with the town of Chenango. “It just doesn’t make sense. These areas just don’t work the same way when you put them together.
Reynolds noted that part of Barker has been in the Northern District since the county’s inception, while Maine has been divided several times over the decades. Given the population of northern Broome, it was impossible to place Barker and all of Maine in the northern district. Reynolds said other maps were “an attack” on rural areas of the Broome County community.
The redistricting process is regulated by state law. The maps were to be drawn with the 15 districts as close to equal population “as possible”. The difference between the most and least populated district could not exceed 5% of the average population of all districts. In Broome County, that figure is 13,246 – the target for the total population in each new district.
Districts should be contiguous and should be as compact as possible. State law prohibits the drawing of districts to discourage competition. Constituencies cannot favor or oppose incumbents, other candidates or particular political parties. Redistricting is also designed to hold traditional voting blocks together.
Broome County Democrats pointed to minimal population gaps during the redistricting debate, while Republicans focused on keeping central districts and communities of interest, as well as existing political subdivisions.
Mary Kaminsky, a Democrat representing the 14th District, said the approval of Map 3 “invites a lawsuit” that could prove costly for taxpayers.
“We have a map whose districts are not as crowded as possible,” Kaminsky said. “We have a map that divides the city of Maine despite two places in the law that say you shouldn’t do this. We have a map that an expert from Binghamton University, who has published extensively on this subject, testified was a partisan gerrymander.
“All of these clear violations of New York State law are supposed to be okay because this map takes into consideration maintaining the cores of existing districts? It’s not even clear what maintaining cores means, but this one thing allows us to disregard several clear requirements of the law? I do not think so.
Republicans disagree. County Attorney Robert G. Behnke advised the Legislature that Map 1 and Map 3 would withstand legal scrutiny. Republicans pointed to the stability of Map 3, which keeps more than 90% of Broome County residents in their current district. Map 3 is expected to largely maintain the current party registration numbers, with some minor deviations. Reynolds noted that County Executive Jason Garnar, a Democrat, easily won some Republican legislative districts in 2020.
District 1 Republican Stephen Flagg said Map 3 adds a few hundred registered Democrats to his district.
“For me, this card is fair. He meets all the criteria, he is supported by the county attorney, he takes into account the communities of interest. Small communities are protected,” Flagg said. “I don’t think any other cards accomplish this. Map 3 encourages competition and does not guarantee a majority for any party in Broome County because ultimately the final decision on representation rests with the voters.
What the community says
Eleven Broome County residents addressed the legislature in a public hearing on Thursday, including a mix of elected officials and community members.
Margaret Goodfellow, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Broome and Tioga Counties, said the redistricting process offers an opportunity to broaden representation among Broome’s minority populations.
“Broome County has seen a decline in population, particularly in rural areas due to deaths, job losses and out-migration. It has also seen modest but steady growth in minority populations over the past decade, providing the opportunity for long-deserved representation in local government and elective office,” said Goodfellow.
Mary Johnson of the League of Women Voters was named to the ad hoc redistricting committee as one of two public representatives. Johnson voted against Map 3.
“Map 3 is a distorted map and suggests possible partisan goals aimed at securing dominance by one political party or perhaps even individual candidates,” Goodfellow said during the public hearing.
Every resident to address the Legislature has come out in favor of Map 1, including Vestal’s Lori Schapiro.
“I don’t think anyone in Broome County should have their vote diluted by the fact that certain districts are populated by more or less people. They should be as equal as possible,” Schapiro said. “While Map 3 might be within the statutory criteria, Map 1 clearly allows the districts to be much more equal which will allow every resident of Broome County’s voice to be heard equally. It it won’t be weighted, it won’t be watered down. I think a fair map is what we deserve as voters in this county.