Redrawn battle lines

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Against the backdrop of newly redrawn district lines and the high number of Democrats and unaffiliated voters in Monroe County, the Nov. 8 elections could hold a few surprises. 

The 25th Congressional District, whose voters will choose between former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, the Republican challenger, and incumbent Democrat Joseph Morelle, now extends as far south as Honeoye Falls and as far west as Lyndonville. 

In the 24th District congressional race, incumbent Republican Claudia Tenney, currently serving the 22nd District, is up against Democrat Steve Holden. The redrawn district, a Republican stronghold, extends from Niagara County around Monroe up to Alexandria Bay. It includes Ontario, Genesee, Livingston, Wayne, Wyoming, Yates and parts of Orleans County. The district is currently represented by John Katko, a Republican. 

State Senate District 55, where incumbent Democrat Samra Brouk faces entrepreneur Len Morrell, a Republican, includes the town of Webster and the southeast portion of the city of Rochester. Some areas of Ontario County are no longer part of the 55th District.

The 56th District has swapped western towns like Hilton and Brockport for Henrietta–new ground for incumbent Democrat Jeremy Cooney and his Republican challenger, Jim VanBrederode. Democrat Kenan Balridge and incumbent Republican Pamela Helming are facing off for the third time in the reconfigured 54th District. It includes large portions of Ontario, Wayne and Livingston counties. Batavia and Akron are not in the mix.

Rising ranks

According to the state Board of Elections, the number of active enrolled Democrats in Monroe County increased by 20 percent from 2010 to 2022 to more than 200,000. Enrolled active Republicans fell by 7 percent, to below 125,000. Enrolled active voters without a party affiliation increased in that time frame by 24 percent and now total more than 122,000.

Even with the Democrats’ enrollment advantage, the Monroe County Legislature is divided or tends to lean Republican due to favorable suburban district boundaries and voter turnouts. This same advantage might exist when it comes to the redistricted boundaries of congressional District 25. 

According to an analysis by Redistricting and You, the new boundaries added 10,000 voters who voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election and nearly 15,000 who voted for Donald Trump. While the gap between parties is still wide, election forecasting website FiveThirtyEight has shifted the district from “solidly Democrat” to “competitively Democrat.”

In Senate District 55, which once extended from Lake Ontario to the Finger Lakes, Republican Rich Funke won the district three times in a row from 2012 to 2018. After he declined to seek re-election, Brouk defeated Republican Christopher Missick in 2020. In 2010, party enrollment in the district was almost evenly split, with 68,000 Democrats and 66,000 Republicans. Since then, enrolled active Democrats have increased dramatically–by 34 percent to 90,000–while Republicans have fallen by 24 percent to 50,000 active enrolled.

District 56, which once reached from Hilton to the town of Brighton, was solidly controlled by Republican Joseph Robach, who twice ran unopposed. In 2020, Cooney defeated Republican David Michael Barry. Unlike the 55th District, the 56th District’s greatest enrollment gains were voters with no party affiliation. The ranks of independents grew by 38 percent from 35,000 to 47,000 from 2010 to 2022. In that same period, enrolled active Democrats rose by 13 percent, from 78,000 to 88,000, and Republicans by 5 percent, from 41,000 to 43,000. 

Voter turnout

Along with their advantage in enrollment numbers, Democrats have a fundraising edge in some key contests. In the race for the 25th Congressional District, Morelle’s cash on hand is over $740,000 compared with Singletary’s $230,000, as of the July financial filing period for campaigns. Brouk’s balance was $340,000 while Morrell’s was $116,000. Cooney’s was $375,000 versus VanBrederode’s $46,000.

However, growing enrollment and fundraising prowess do not guarantee Democrats victory at the polls. While Democrats are enrolled in greater numbers, active enrolled Republicans typically are better at showing up for elections, regardless of geographic location. From 2010 to 2021, Republicans saw an average 4 percent advantage in turnout compared with Democrats; in some years, the advantage was as high as 10 percent.

Even in the city of Rochester, where Republicans are outnumbered in enrollment by 5 to 1, they see an average 4.5 percent advantage in turnout. From 2010 to 2021, only the town of Brighton had an average turnout advantage for Democrats (2.3 percent).

Similarly, while overall voter turnout in Senate Districts 55 and 56 is decent, Republicans historically have shown up in droves compared to their Democratic counterparts, who did not run candidates some years. In 2020, the high overall turnout rates where Democrats had built an enrollment advantage meant Brouk and Cooney could overcome an already activated Republican voting bloc.

Congressional District 25 has had relatively high overall turnout as well (over 70 percent in three of the last five election years). Outside of a close victory in 2014, that has typically benefited Democrats Louise Slaughter and later Morelle, who have an enrollment advantage in the district.

Turnout for all voters across Monroe County follows a cyclical pattern with fewer individuals showing up for offseason elections or those without major contests. Even considering that cyclical pattern, however, voter turnout for 2021 was particularly low, barely above 30 percent. This year saw the lowest turnout for primary elections in 18 years, which could signal low turnout in the general election as well.

Demographic shift

Districts in Monroe County will also face a change in the makeup of their voting age population. While debate over County Legislature redistricting is still brewing, congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts have already been redrawn.

Under that redistricting, Congressional District 25 will gain 7 percent or 31,000 new white non-Hispanic voters, according to Census data analyzed by Redistricting and You: New York, a project of the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. That far outpaces the 1,800 new individuals it has also added from all non-white categories.

Senate District 55 has a 3 percent increase or 5,000 new white non-Hispanic individuals of voting age. It also adds 1,800 Asian, 5,000 Hispanic, and 7,000 non-Hispanic Blacks.

Senate District 56 will see voting age population increases of 6,700 white non-Hispanics, 5,000 Asians, and over 10,000 Black non-Hispanics. It will lose 1,200 Hispanic individuals in the voting age population.

Making moves

With only a month until Election Day, candidates in both parties have been campaigning intensively, pledging support to various causes that align with their platforms and voters. Morrell, like others, has been going door to door, explaining his “common sense” plans for education–especially for those who aren’t interested in pursuing a college degree–and public safety. Singletary, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2021, takes a firm stand against defunding the police, saying change requires resources. Also a former police chief, VanBrederode takes a similar tack. 

Morelle, who claims Singletary doesn’t offer solutions for the community, recently hired Zach King, former chair of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, to manage his campaign. King played an instrumental role in Louise Slaughter’s reelection campaign in 2016. Morelle’s ads on social media and television go after his opponent’s positions on issues–like women’s right to choose, for example. 

This week, Cooney applauded Micron’s $20 billion investment in a chip factory outside Syracuse–he was the only state senator quoted in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s news release, though the factory site is a distance from his district. He called it a transformational moment for Upstate New York and an opportunity to replicate Micron’s success.

Brouk isn’t leaving anything to chance either. Today, she hosts a Brews with Brouk fundraiser at Three Heads Brewing.

In the Lake District (24), once seen as a flippable seat for Democrats, Holden is pushing his ties to rural and Army life. Of Native American heritage, the candidate’s platform addresses rural issues–access to broadband, rural development and infrastructure,  and a strong immigrant labor force for farmers and grape growers. However, Democrats tried to unseat Katko in the past without success. Politico forecasts it as a solid Republican district.

One thing seems certain: Redrawn districts this year will spell increased voter confusion, with polling places, for example. Also, incumbent candidates may not be on the ballot in the same district as before. 

Will voters show up at the right places? Will they be puzzled by the names on the ballot? It remains to be seen.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

2 thoughts on “Redrawn battle lines

  1. There seems to be something wrong with the bar chart showing party line voting for SD55, which indicates that in 2016 there were zero Democratic vote.

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