Keep Erie, Niagara Counties Separate

Congressional-redistricting time is upon us.

This column in July 2020 made a case for again keeping a Southern Tier/Finger Lakes district as intact as is practical and not combining any of the Southern Tier with any of Erie County and perhaps also Niagara County.

During every past redistricting except one, we in the Southern Tier have avoided any such combination.

We can avoid that again, yet we need to understand what we’re up against. For at least four reasons, this is our toughest fight yet.

First, each New York congressional district must have about 60,000 more people than each post-2010-census New York congressional district.

Second, the number of New York congressional districts will decrease by one.

Third, the decrease will occur in either Western, Central, Northern, or Upstate New York, because they’ve lost population since the 2010 census, while downstate New York – Long Island, New York City, and counties just north of New York City – has gained population.

Fourth, each district tends to be identified with its member of Congress. The Southern Tier/Finger Lakes district’s member is standing down in 2022, thereby keeping his promise at the beginning of his tenure to serve no more than six terms. His standing down makes it tempting to cut this district.

According to the 2020 census and U.S. Supreme Court case law, New York has 20,215,751 people to divide equally among 26 districts. That’s 777,528 or 777,529 per district.

Given county-by-county populations, how can we redraw a Southern Tier/Finger Lakes district? Here’s an example.

Perhaps the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission will consider this and other county-by-county-population-based analyses from this part of New York. Even though the commission’s hearing for this part of New York has already occurred, it occurred without allowing for sufficient time after the Census Bureau released county-by-county populations. This may well have been inadvertent, yet that doesn’t solve the insufficient-time problem.

Let’s start with two urban districts like two current districts:

¯ Monroe County, which includes Rochester, has almost enough people for one district. Combine Monroe County with some of Wayne County. There’s the first district.

¯ Erie County, which includes Buffalo, has more than enough people for one district. This district would be either solely from Erie County, or – like its current counterpart – mostly from Erie County and partly from Niagara County. Either way, there’s the second district, with a large remainder for another.

Such districts make sense. And if we’re going to advocate a sensible district for ourselves, we need to do the same for others.

To keep Erie and Niagara counties separate from a Southern Tier/Finger Lakes district, Western New York broadly understood must have – as it does now – two more districts. Each must be larger than its current counterpart:

¯ For one of the two, start with the remainders from Erie and Niagara counties and Wayne County. Then add Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston, and Ontario counties.

¯ For the other, combine Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Schuyler, Tompkins, Yates, Seneca, Cayuga, and Cortland counties.

Both of these miss the population target by a few thousand people, so there would have to be shifts to or from elsewhere. Nevertheless, these illustrate what two such districts could look like.

There are, of course, other options, yet they’re limited, especially, but not only, given the need also to create sensible districts elsewhere in New York.

One temptation is easy to see. We do ourselves no favors by not acknowledging it. The temptation is to start with the two urban districts and add only one additional district in Western New York, not as broadly understood but as more traditionally understood with the eight westernmost counties.

It will be tempting to have that one additional district include the remainder from Erie and Niagara counties, plus Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties. This also misses the population target by a few thousand people, so there would have to be a shift.

For reasons explained in July 2020, we shouldn’t combine any of the Southern Tier with any of Erie County and perhaps also Niagara County.

If this happens, don’t be surprised to see districts with Broome County, which includes Binghamton, and Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse, engulf what’s left of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes.

Then the purely small-city/rural representation of this part of New York will be gone.

Chautauqua County resident Randy Elf’s July 2020 column on congressional redistricting is at https://www.post-journal.com/life/viewpoints/2020/07/save-our-district-again/


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