Voter turnout is a substantial problem that Democrats face nationwide, especially in college areas like Broome County. According to WSKG, in Broome County and Tompkins County, which contain Binghamton University, Cornell University and Ithaca College, “only about 27 percent of people registered to vote actually cast a ballot.” It’s pretty obvious that these institutions can provide vital Democratic votes, and indeed have the power to flip both county-level and congressional elections to the Democrats. However, BU alum Harris Weiss lost his election for Broome County clerk by 62.5 percent to 37.45 percent to the Republican incumbent. Current Republican deputy mayor, Jared Kraham, won the Binghamton mayoral race by 54.12 percent to 44.2 percent over Democrat Joe Burns. To be completely frank, these are abysmal and worrying results for Broome County and BU Democrats.
Additionally, the rejection of multiple progressive ballot proposals this election cycle is a warning sign to all New York Democrats. Quite ludicrously, Democrats lost ballot proposals to democratize redistricting, implement same-day voter registration and pass a law for no-excuse absentee voting. The importance of these proposals is increasing access to voting. Increasing turnout among many voters led the Conservative Party and Republican Party to spend significantly on their campaign against passage of these proposals, while the Democrats failed appallingly in collecting enough of the voters in New York state that Biden won by 60.9 percent to Trump’s 37.7 percent. Not to mention, these are simply proposals to help bring New York state’s ancient and backward voting restrictions into the 21st century. If the Democrats cannot get enough voters to turn out in support of no-excuse absentee ballots being made available, how in the world do they expect to hold close seats in a midterm environment that doesn’t favor them? Well, at least in New York state, they’ve probably decided it’s time to play dirty.
New York state has an Independent Redistricting Commission. An independent redistricting commission is a body outside of the state legislature that can draw redistricting maps with input from both political parties and the public, attempting to make the process fairer. But what they say really doesn’t matter, since New York Democrats will likely gerrymander multiple Republicans out of Congress in 2022 anyway. During the last redistricting in 2011, Democrats only held the New York State Assembly while Republicans controlled the state Senate. This led to a map that didn’t maximize Democratic power in the state. This time around, however, Democrats hold the State Senate, State House and the governorship. It is plausible that the Democrats could gerrymander BU and Cornell University into a district much more Democratic than the current in an aim to take away upstate seats from the GOP. This would involve strategically placing the college and city vote into a district where it outweighs the rural vote, guaranteeing a Democratic pickup even if the GOP gains ground in the popular vote. But quite honestly, who can blame them? Democrats have been advocating for fair congressional maps for a long time, and it just isn’t working.
North Carolina, Ohio and other states like Arizona and Texas where the GOP has refused to give up extreme gerrymanders presents a complex question for Democrats. Should they attempt to implement independent redistricting commissions in states they control while the GOP continues to draw racial and undemocratic gerrymanders in states they control, or should they just play dirty too? A model for what Democrats in New York state will likely do is evident in Illinois, where the state Democratic Party proposed a map which would hand Democrats 14 out of 17 House seats. But without national legislation requiring independent redistricting commissions, this is the only way Democrats can realistically minimize the losses they face due to the combination of gerrymandering and low turnout in 2022.
If there is asymmetrical gerrymandering on behalf of the GOP without a response from Democrats, they will almost certainly have a permanent advantage in winning the House of Representatives and state legislatures. Democrats are not likely to get any help with legislation due to the Senate filibuster and only narrow majorities in both houses of Congress, nor are they likely to get help from the Supreme Court. In their Rucho v. Common Cause decision back in 2019, the court ruled 5 to 4 in an all-conservatives versus all-liberals vote that partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable because they present a political question beyond reach of the courts.
So, what can be done? Well, addressing the voter turnout problem is the clearest solution. Turnout at BU for Broome County elections was horrendous this year, and this was the case for the Democratic Party across the country. The primary objective of local Democrats in Broome County should be to increase young voter turnout and minority turnout across the county. This objective should be the same for all Democrats across the country. To put it simply, voting out politicians who support asymmetrical gerrymandering and oppose expanding access to the ballot is the only solution we have left.
Sean Reichbach is a freshman double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law.