More than a year after local residents filed suit, an appeals court threw out Broome County’s legislative district map last week as violating proper redistricting guidelines.
The court upheld a December 2022 judgment from Joseph McBride, a State Supreme Court justice, which invalidated the map recommended by a redistricting committee — appointed by the 15-member County Legislature to redraw districts using 2020 census data. Presented with five options, the committee advised the legislature to choose “map three,” which split the Town of Maine into three separate districts. Several county residents sued in May 2022, alleging that the chosen map violated the Municipal Home Rule law (MHRL), which lists five criteria that county redistricting maps should adhere to.
The map was found in violation of the fifth redistricting criterion contained in the MHRL — that districts cannot be drawn to favor or disfavor particular candidates or political parties, and any village or town whose population is less than 40 percent of what is needed to comprise a full district cannot be split. Expert analysis of the case was provided by Jonathan Krasno, a professor of political science at Binghamton University. He expanded on his findings.
“Because of a number of papers I’ve published with other [University] faculty on gerrymandering, I was asked by a group of citizens to examine Broome’s old — 2011-2020 — legislative map and later the map passed by the County Legislature,” Krasno wrote in an email. “In both cases, I found that lines were drawn to give an advantage to the party that controlled the process — the Republican Party. In addition, since [the 2011 maps, New York state] passed legislation that should have affected how the legislature drew its districts — making some of the features of the old map non-starters. [T]he Broome Legislature appeared to disregard this new law by continuing some questionable features of the old map that clearly favored Republicans.”
Fair Maps for Broome Inc., a nonprofit founded in 2022, announced the victory in a press release and added that the lawsuit had left them without funds.
The county defended its map by arguing that splitting the Town of Maine was necessary to maintain a “community of interest” with a neighboring town. The appellate court rejected the county’s defense as falling far short of rebutting the claim that no violation occurred. Karen Beene, the chairwoman of the Broome County Democrats, praised the court’s decision.
“These legislative maps have been gerrymandered for years,” Beebe wrote in an email. “Laws put in place by [New York state] to prevent gerrymandering went ignored by County Legislative Republicans assuming they could continue to draw maps to benefit themselves. This legal decision affirms what Democrats fought for — fair representation for Broome County voters.”
The plaintiffs advocated for a special master to be appointed to draw a new legislative map, but the appeals court declined this request. The responsibility to draw new county district lines will now return to the legislature. Dan Reynolds, the legislature’s chairman, expressed disappointment with the court’s decision to void the map.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the outcome of the decision,” Reynolds wrote in a statement. “Only in [New York state] could they require municipalities to include criminals sentenced to life sentences in prison that clearly no longer live in our community to be counted as part of the redistricting process. Additionally, the Court’s notion that agricultural districts, school districts and historical districts dating back to 1968 are somehow vague is also a curious interpretation. Regardless, the legislature will review the decision with the County Attorney to discuss our options, and we’ll make changes to address any issues if necessary.”
Atticus Fauci, the president of College Democrats and a sophomore majoring in economics, explained that state courts have produced reasonable redistricting decisions. He added that Republicans were nervous about the upcoming 2024 elections and potential Democratic turnout.
Logan Blakeslee, the College Republicans’ secretary and a senior double-majoring in political science and history, expressed his thanks to Krasno for his work involved in this case.
“We at College Republicans oppose gerrymandering in all circumstances,” Blakeslee wrote in an email. “Personally, I would like to thank [Krasno] for his involvement in the case, and we hope to see the restoration of legislative districts that correctly reflect the demographics of Broome County.”