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Bello wants a redistricting commission; County Legislature leaders declare it dead

Aug 10, 2020

Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News

An independent commission would draw new boundary lines for Monroe County’s 29 legislative districts based on 2020 Census data under legislation proposed Monday by County Executive Adam Bello.

But the measure is poised to be rejected by legislators, including those in his own Democratic Party.

“I don’t support it,” said Vince Felder, leader of the Legislature’s Democratic minority.

Republican Majority Leader Steve Brew went a step further.

“I predict that it’s DOA,” Brew said.

Revising legislative boundaries is an exercise that state and municipal governments are required to undergo every 10 years to ensure equitable representation based on population derived from the census.

In the past, legislators have formed their own commission, which has worked with the county Board of Elections to draw the maps. Both Brew and Felder said they saw no reason why that arrangement should change.

“There’s no evidence that independent redistricting draws better lines,” Felder said.

Bello framed his proposal as a response to voters who have told him they want an independent and nonpartisan process for redistricting the Legislature. The commission would “instill confidence in residents that this is a fair and impartial process,” Bello said in a prepared statement.

“Our democracy is built on voters picking their representatives, not representatives picking their voters,” the statement read. “This is our chance to make real reform to the redistricting process and build confidence in those we represent.”

Bello’s proposal would amend the county charter to create the independent redistricting commission. According to the legislation, the commission would consist of:

  • The two Monroe County Board of Elections commissioners.
  • Two retired judges who live in Monroe County. One would be appointed by the Legislature’s majority leader and one by its minority leader.
  • Two members recommended by an “organization committed to voters’ rights.” One would be appointed by the majority leader and the other by the minority leader.
  • Two representatives of an “organization committed to the rights of racial or ethnic minorities, women, persons who identify as LGBTQ, or persons with disabilities.” Again, one would be appointed by the majority leader and the other by the minority leader.

The commission’s chair would be elected by no fewer than five of its members. The eight members would not be compensated.

Redrawing legislative lines this time around is complicated by the state’s revised political calendar, which moved primary races to June from September.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau has stated it expects to meet the statutory deadline to complete the census by Dec. 31, the data will not likely be made available to states and counties until March or April. Candidates for political office in New York are required to file their petitions for the seats they’re seeking by February, however.

Bello’s proposal states that if the redistricting process has not been completed at least 30 days prior to the first day candidates can submit petitions, anyone seeking a county Legislature seat in 2021 would run in their existing districts for a one-year term, then run again in 2022, this time under the new districts and for a four-year term.

Republican legislators and some Democrats object to that timeline. The Republican majority has circulated draft legislation that provides for legislators to run in their existing districts in 2021 but for a two-year term, thereby running again in 2023 and bypassing the need to run in a gubernatorial election year, which historically in New York has tended to favor Democrats.

Brew stressed that the legislation was just a starting point and the legislators are in the process of trying to understand their options.

“Something has to be done,” Brew said.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.