Ulster County Reapportionment Commission 2022: A Case of a Botched Commission and Illegal Result
FACT SHEET AND APPEAL FOR FUNDING ASSISTANCE
- The Ulster County Commission on Reapportionment (COR) was formed to draw new district lines after the 2020 census and to do it without a political agenda.
- Democrats took that to heart and appointed non-political individuals they thought would do a good job.
- Republicans apparently saw this as a partisan endeavor and Minority Leader Ken Ronk (R-Shawangunk) appointed Republican Attorney Sarah Destefano with an obvious gerrymandering mandate.
- Why this is important to Gardiner: COR released a draft map in April 2022 that, for the first time, divided largely Democratic Gardiner into two county legislative districts, in classic gerrymandering fashion, making it nearly impossible for three-fourths of Gardiner to elect a Democrat.
- Gardiner is a town of about 5500 residents. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2:1. The mean population of all 23 legislative districts is 7815. There is no reason, beyond partisan gerrymandering, for Gardiner to be divided into two different legislative districts. With the COR-generated map it is very possible that no Gardiner resident will serve in the County Legislature for the next decade!
- Why is this important to all Ulster County Dems?
- It is true that one or two formerly red districts become more purple in the map produced by COR. It is also true that Legislative District 4 (currently represented by Brian Cahill) and Legislative District 16 (currently represented by Tracey Bartels) flip from likely blue to likely red. The latter benefits guess who? Ken Ronk and the Shawangunk Republicans.
- This is a frontal attack on the Democratic Party by Republicans. The party has effectively lost two seats in the County Legislature for a decade or more due to this prejudicial map.
- It is important to realize that COR’s final map, as submitted on 7/13/2022 is illegal and can be challenged at any time, even after representatives are elected to fill seats defined by the faulty map. That is why the county attorney is begging them to meet. So, one way or another, the maps will be redrawn. The sooner that takes place the better for all concerned.
- At a public hearing of the Commission held in Modena in May, about 25 residents from Gardiner and many others from other parts of southern Ulster County complained to the commission about their communities being divided by COR unnecessarily.
- At the final meeting of COR, in June in Kingston, the Commission voted down one map that kept Gardiner whole and refused to consider a “compromise map” prepared by the County Planning Department that addressed many of the concerns of the residents of Southern Ulster, including keeping Gardiner in one district.
- It became crystal clear that Republican attorney Destefano was moving heaven and earth to prevent any substantive changes to the draft map, despite the public calling for changes. In typical Republican fashion, falsely blaming Democrats for what Republicans actually do, DeStefano remarked that caving into public commentary on this would constitute gerrymandering. Another Republican member of COR commented that, with the County Executive and Speaker of the Legislature both being from Gardiner, the town was “too powerful” and needed to be divided.
- During the course of researching ways to challenge the map, Gardiner Dem Chair, Tom Kruglinski, spoke to a renowned redistricting expert and ascertained that the current map is illegal because the way counties are supposed to calculate the maximum size of districts changed in the law in 2021. The County Attorney has since advised COR to meet and address the map’s deficiencies. They have refused. Hence the need for a lawsuit so that a judge would order them to act. See more on this below (In the Weeds) and this article from the Albany Times Union. The article has a good summary of the legal situation.
- Goal 1: compel COR to meet. It is in everyone’s interest for there to be legal districts as soon as possible, before or not long after when we typically begin to circulate petitions for legislative candidates. By county charter, neither the legislature nor the Executive can order them to meet. Only a judge can and that won’t happen without a lawsuit.
- Goal 2: once COR goes back to the drawing board, it is in all of our interests to ensure that they act fairly and not to the Republicans’ narrow advantage. Dems will need a plan to watch them like a hawk—attend every meeting and report to each other on what happens.
- It is also possible that the court might order a “special master” to redraw the map within the bounds of the law. That might be a preferable alternative given the combination of incompetence and malevolance of the Republican-dominated COR.
THE ASK: Please contribute generously to fund the lawsuit
We need to raise money to pay for a legal challenge to the Commission on Redistricting. We have a current fundraising goal of $10,000 which may or may not be enough to fund the suit (litigation is unpredictable). Note it is quite possible that COR will still meet without a lawsuit (although we have already incurred some legal expenses) or with simply the filing of a complaint. If this happens, all contributed money left over will be returned to the contributors in proportion to the contribution made. Hopefully this is a relatively inexpensive endeavor.
Please send checks to help cover the legal expenses related to the litigation to:
Lanny E. Walter Attorney
IOLA Trust Account
301 Van Vlierden Rd.,
Saugerties, NY 12477
(Indicate “COR Litigation Fund” on your check or accompanying note.)
IN THE WEEDS
How The Ulster County Commission on Reapportionment(COR) defined their Criteria for Redrawing District Lines (From the COR website—bolding in original)
What are some of the rules requiring compliance and expectations to keep in mind for redistricting?
- Equal Population: Each district must include 7,815 residents, with a deviation no more than 5% plus or minus. That means a district can be no larger than 8,207 on the +5% side or no smaller than 7,424 on the -5% side.
- Contiguity: A district must be one piece, physically connected, not two or more separate pieces. A rule of thumb is that persons should be able to travel within any district without requiring them to cross through another district.
- Compactness: A district is compact if it is without contorted, dispersed, spikey, or squiggly boundaries. A rectangle or circle shapes are better examples of compactness than a hotdog or salamander shape.
- Existing town, city, village, election district boundaries, and defining geographic features (e.g., streams, bodies of water, mountain ranges) should be taken into consideration.
- Not Gerrymandered: Districts should not favor or discriminate against political parties, incumbents, or candidates.
What the law actually says:
Chapter 516 of the Laws of 2021 (bolding added for highlighting purposes)
On October 27, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul signed Chapter 516 of the Laws of 2021 (“Chapter 516”) into effect, in which Section 34 and Section 10 of Municipal Home Rule Law (“MHRL”) were amended to require that redistricting plans comply with the following standards and “shall have priority in the order herein set forth, to the extent applicable:
(a) A five percent population limit on the difference between the largest and smallest districts as is practicable;
(b) Not drawing districts that discriminate against racial or language minority groups;
(c) Drawing contiguous districts;
(d) Drawing compact districts, as may be practicable; and
(e) Not drawing districts that discourages competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents, candidates, or political parties; maintaining cores of pre-existing districts and political subdivisions, and consideration of communities of interest.
The legislation included the following language:
If such plan of districting or redistricting includes only single-member districts, such districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; the difference in population between the most and least populous district shall not exceed five percent of the mean population of all districts. If such plan of districting or redistricting includes multi-member districts…
What Happened? Why Did This Screw-up Occur?
It’s a good question. Bad legal advice? Perhaps. The vice chair of COR is a Republican attorney placed on the Commission by Legislature Minority Leader Ken Ronk who, observers noted, dominated the process throughout. Wouldn’t she bring herself up to date on the law before pushing through, despite public opposition, the final map? One would hope so. But apparently not. Perhaps she was too busy ensuring that her patron’s interests were served by dividing up Gardiner in such a way as to favor the domination of Shawangunk and Gardiner Republicans for the next decade.
THANK YOU FOR ANY ASSISTANCE YOU CAN GIVE TO THIS IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR!
Questions? Contact Tom Kruglinski (914) 475-3601