Broome County legislators voted along party lines Tuesday night to adopt a new legislative district map, favored by Republicans. Last week, many residents voiced their concerns about the map in a public hearing held via Zoom.
The new map, or “Draft Map 3,” keeps many of the county’s political districts largely the same as the one adopted 10 years ago, but adjusts districts at the boundaries to bring the map into compliance with new state laws.
Binghamton University* political science professor Daniel Magelby said that there can be benefits to maintaining familiar district lines. But Magelby said that isn’t always the best approach, especially when there’s been a shift in population demographics.
“The problem with the status quo is that the status quo is heavily biased against Democratic voters,” Magelby said. “And there are more people who vote for Democrats in Broome County than there are people who vote for Republicans.”
Broome County saw an overall decline in population in the 2020 census. But that decline affected rural, Republican-leaning districts the most, while more urban areas enjoyed moderate population growth.
Republicans currently enjoy a two-thirds supermajority in the county Legislature, which means they can override County Executive Jason Garner if they so wish.
“This is a well done map if [Republicans’] intention was to hold on to a supermajority that could override a veto from the county executive,” Magelby said.
He said the new map, like the old one, allows Republicans to hold onto two-thirds majority, even if they win less than tw0-thirds of the total vote. Conversely, Democrats could win 40% of the votes, but those votes would only translate into 4 out of the 15 total seats — just over 26%.
Another Binghamton University political science professor, Jonathan Krasno, submitted “Draft Map 1,” which had been the favorite of county Democrats.
That map was also a favorite among county residents who appeared at a public meeting to testify against the Republican backed map.
Krasno said his map was designed to minimize bias, but still gave Republicans a slight edge. However, the map did not pass a committee vote.
Legislature Chair Dan Reynolds, a Republican, said Krasno’s map unfairly singled out rural communities.
“The other maps to me were an attack on the rural areas of the community,” Reynolds said. “And they did things that I thought were egregious, including breaking up the town of Barker from the Northern District.”
Reynolds said Democrats’ criticism of the new map amounts to a “retelling of history.”
“The basis of [Draft Map 3] was a map that was passed 16 to 1 in the previous Legislature,” Reynolds said. “So, it was passed by both Republicans and Democrats.”
Democrat Mark Whalen was the sole person to vote against the previous map 10 years ago. He also voted against Draft Map 3 this week. Whalen said he disagreed with the new map, but respected the work that had gone into the redistricting process.
“I get it, you know, it’s politics, we all want to maintain power,” Whalen said. “I’ve been in the majority, I was even chairman for a couple years. But it’s not a lot of fun being in the minority.”
A legal challenge to the new map is expected, though County Attorney Robert Behneke has said he expects the Republican-backed map to hold up in court.
You can view detailed maps of all the redistricting plans here.
* Binghamton University is a WSKG underwriter.