Do We Draw the Lines?
the date for Albany County’s legislative elections draws closer,
the shape and makeup of the districts remains unclear
than a week after a federal magistrate cited flaws in Albany
County’s redistricting process and halted this fall’s legislative
elections until the voting maps are redrawn, the county has
done little to correct the problem.
On July 7, U.S. Magistrate Judge David R. Homer said that
the Albany County Legislature unfairly tweaked its 39 legislative
districts—benefiting the county’s Democratic majority by taking
representation from minority communities—during the highly
political redistricting process. The judge’s decision was
a recommendation to U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue,
who is expected to decide shortly whether the maps need to
Redistricting occurs roughly every decade in accordance with
demographic changes based on the U.S. Census. Homer agreed
with the plaintiffs—including the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People and the Arbor Hill Concerned
Citizens Neighborhood Coalition—who claimed that the number
of voting districts containing a majority of minority voters
should have increased in accordance with a rise in the county’s
The county’s disputed plan included three voting districts
with minorities making up the majority of voters, but the
plaintiffs said the population increase called for the creation
of a fourth minority-majority district.
County legislator Lucille McKnight (D-Albany) introduced a
bill at Monday’s (July 14) meeting that included a redistricting
plan drafted by the plaintiffs, which would create a fourth
minority-majority district, but the legislation was quickly
shuffled into the county’s redistricting commission despite
cries for debate and a vote from the body’s Republican minority.
Although the plaintiffs and county Republicans wanted to see
the bill passed Monday night, McKnight said she had other
reasons for introducing the bill.
put the motion in so we could get the ball rolling,” McKnight.
“I think people were pissed—they thought it was going to get
passed—but all I was doing was trying to get things going.
I just hope they really understand now that we need to get
going and redraw the lines.”
McKnight faulted the legislature’s redistricting commission
for not meeting with her constituents to begin the redistricting
process again prior to Monday’s meeting.
are they doing? As of [Monday] night [the redistricting commission]
hadn’t planned any meetings, they had nothing,” McKnight said.
“You would think they would have scheduled one as soon as
they got that report from the judge. I mean let’s go back
to the drawing board, folks. We need four districts and here
they are with no meetings planned or nothing.”
Sean Ward (D-Green Island), who heads the county’s redistricting
commission, said he is looking to speed the process along
as quickly as possible to ensure that the fall’s coming elections
receive minimal disruption.
certainly want to move this along so as not to affect the
upcoming elections,” said Ward. “I would be presumptuous to
give an exact date [as to when the news maps will be finalized],
but soon is the word of the day.”
As of Monday, Ward did not know when his commission would
next meet to decide the future of Albany County’s district
maps. Ward did say that his commission ordered the county
attorney to move forward with a response to the suit, also
filed on Monday.
Homer made changes to how we’re supposed to draw the lines,”
Ward said. “We object to his findings, but we’ll move toward
Albany County Attorney Michael Lynch filed a number of objections
with Homer’s decision and asked the U.S. district judge to
reject the lawsuit.
Lynch disputed a number of Homer’s decisions claiming, among
other things, that the number of minority residents was improperly
tallied and did not increase enough to justify the creation
of a fourth minority-majority voting district.
But Paul DerOhannesian, attorney for the plaintiffs, expressed
some confusion at the multiple messages being presented by
were somewhat confused,” said DerOhannesian. “Sean Ward said
they would go ahead and create a fourth district, but [the
legislature] indicated [Monday night] that they refuse to
accept [our] plan. But they’re also saying things like, ‘Oh,
Albany can’t provide for four minority-majority districts
and there is not [racially] polarized voting in the city.’
So they’re talking right and walking left.”