Returning to redistricting

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 8/17/22

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County’s public hearing on its redistricting maps opened not with public comment but with a presentation.

The public hearing occurred on August 11, soliciting …

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Returning to redistricting

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MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County’s public hearing on its redistricting maps opened not with public comment but with a presentation.

The public hearing occurred on August 11, soliciting public input on a trio of redistricting maps. The maps would redraw the county’s legislative districts, which determine which member of the Sullivan County Legislature represents what geographic area.

County manager Josh Potosek and director of real property tax services Chris Knapp walked the public—and legislators—through a PowerPoint  presentation explaining the process of redrawing the maps.

The county’s nine districts each have to contain around the same amount of people. According to the 2020 census, the average should be 8,627.

The variance between the largest and the smallest districts couldn’t be more than five percent of the total; given Sullivan County’s population totals, only 431.35 people separate the largest and the smallest district.

The existence of census blocks adds an additional layer of complication.

A census block is the most finite area the census examines, defined by geographic boundaries; the census can determine how many people live in each block, but not where in each block they live. The redistricting process follows census block lines, and cannot split blocks.

There were 5,200 census blocks in Sullivan County in 2010, and 3,700 in 2020. Each block has more people, so the possibilities for tweaks to the maps that stay within the five percent variance are constrained, they said.

“[New York’s guidelines] start off the law and the language with ‘the districts shall be as compact as possible,’ meaning population,” said Potosek. “So they want the districts to be as close to the mean as possible… [and] having the census blocks being reduced on top of that limits the flexibility of how you can draw maps, so there’s not as many options.”

Potosek and Knapp also provided legislators and the public with an updated timetable for making a decision on the redistricting maps.

The county needs to complete its maps by February 15, 2023. The task of completing them falls to the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE), which will in the same period have to run the 2022 elections.

The legislature should make a decision by September to give the BOE time to complete its back-office work on the maps, said Potosek and Knapp.

The members of the public present urged the legislature to take its time in considering the maps.

“I’m here to urge you to not accept any of the proposed maps, but to ask for a fourth option,” said Jeffersonville resident Barbara Van Benschoten. “There’s no rush to get this done, even though I just heard the gentlemen say it could take six months. It needs to be done right.”

The presentation at the start of the hearing made clear for the first time information about the maps and about the process of redistricting. Even then, members of the public pointed out the information that the presentation had not covered, including how the redistricting maps would affect minority populations in the county, population statistics for each of the revised districts, and the criteria used to create the maps.

“The presentation that was put on today has left me more confused about what’s going on, rather than clarifying it, and it’s certainly too little, too late and incomplete,” said Tusten resident Star Hesse.

Legislators made no decision on the proposed maps on August 11, recessing the public hearing until August 18.

redistricting, Josh Potosek, Chris Knapp, census

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