Come November, the Monroe County Legislature districts will look different from their 2011 boundaries. The picture, however, is still uncertain.
The latest legislative map draft was revealed last week and is the third to come before the Legislative District Revision Commission. The LDRC is a five-member bipartisan panel formed in March, following County Executive Adam Bello’s veto of previously approved new district lines in mid-December 2021.
Even after months of planning and multiple public input meetings, tensions along political lines remained high at a recent public meeting for the map. While some legislators hold up this latest effort as a victory for Black voters and majority-minority districts, others claim the map will “pack” minority voters into fewer districts.
This newest map, crafted by ArcBridge Consulting and Training, creates some differences in the suburban districts of Monroe County compared with 2011. Significant changes would include shifting the town of Brockport from District 20 to District 2; the combining of East Rochester and Fairport in District 11, instead of District 18; and splitting the town of Brighton from one district (14) to three (14, 23 and 24).
Still, the point of contention for involved lawmakers revolves around the city of Rochester, which has greater proportions of non-white voters, particularly Black voters, a bloc that has been suppressed historically. Supporters of the most recent map claim that it will result in five primarily Black voter districts, in greater numbers than the other proposals.
“This five-district map is historic for Monroe County; it’s the best plan on the table to comply with the Voting Rights Act,” said Democrat Legislator Rachel Barnhart in comments at the most recent public meeting. “Its five seats are proportional to the Black population. It stops vote dilution via cracking and packing of Black voters. It empowers voters in a long-neglected area of the city.”
Barnhart is not a member of the LDRC, but said she met with Legislature President Sabrina LaMar, who often aligns with Republican legislators, and Democrats Yversha Roman and Michael Yudelson to develop this map as a compromise. She encouraged other Democratic members to support the latest map, to put aside “political concerns,” and warned against plans to take the redistricting issue to court.
However, a recent statement released by the majority of the members of the Legislature’s Democratic caucus disagrees with Barnhart.
“The current map, enacted in 2011 has six majority-minority districts,” reads the statement. “The plan currently being proposed packs Black and Hispanic (Latino/a/x) residents into fewer districts and creates a new solid white majority district in the City of Rochester. That is unacceptable.”
“(The map) breaks up communities and neighborhoods. It is not compact. You cannot go from St. Paul to East High School and say that that is a compact district,” said Minority Leader Yversha Roman, an LDRC member, at the most recent public meeting in reference to Legislative District 29.
“Packing voters is illegal. It has been mentioned over and over again,” she added. “We’re saying packing refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of color. LD 29 has not historically had an issue of electing people of color. That is textbook packing of voters.”
Supporters of this map see these protests as partisan attacks aimed at LaMar and the possibility of her allies being elected with a more favorable map.
“I had legislators calling me asking me if I can move more white voters into a Black district just so they can win a primary,” LaMar said at the public meeting, indicating that those phone calls were from Democratic caucus members. “That is not what the commission is here to do and I was appalled to hear such things.”
“I did not sign up to be part of something that’s so filled with hatred and partisan bickering and distrust. This is something that we sat down to do together and I think we can still,” said Barnhart. “I’ve been part of a lot of political wars with this caucus, some of them against President Lamar. This isn’t one of them. I’m not going to war over democracy here.”
In addition to the legislators in the meeting, community comments were also heard, with residents calling for greater public involvement.
“This is the sixth decade of redistricting that I’ve lived through at my age and I don’t expect to see another decade. It is unfortunate that in those 60 years we have not seen a fundamental change in the way that districts have done it,” community member Michael Slade said.
An open letter by the League of Women Voters largely summarizes this view: “In the fall of 2021 there was a lot of public testimony, including specific complaints about various neighborhood lines. It appeared that such testimony was never actually considered. We would like to see the Commission go through that testimony and determine which suggestions should be incorporated in the revised maps.”
A 3-2 vote by the LDRC passed this latest proposed map to the full Legislature, which meets today, for review. If approved, it will need Bello’s sign off.