County proposes to extend deadline for redistricting until next year

Cortland County. (Photo Source: Kevin L. Smith of The Cortland Voice).

The Cortland County Redistricting Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend extending the process to redraw legislative district boundaries by a year. The new deadline, officials agreed, will be July of next year.

As part of the apportionment process that occurs every 10 years after the U.S. Census figures are released, the county is sought to redraw its legislative boundaries to be able to provide fair representation to residents based on updated population figures. 

Census data indicates there has been a 5.1 percent decline in population across the county since 2010. It has spawned questions regarding the number of county legislative seats moving forward. 

For every district, there must be a 5 percent increase or decrease from a proportional number of residents per district. In the county’s case, if they were to uphold the current 17 legislature seats, it would mean the district must stay within 5 percent more or less than approximately 2,753 residents. This number is the total Cortland County population divided by the 17 districts.

Now, commission members are set to go back to the drawing board to come up with a whole new approach to redistricting after the legislature collectively agreed to vote down the latest proposed map and redistricting local law in May

If the proposal to extend the deadline into summer 2023 doesn’t clear a legislature vote on June 23, the commission will have until this August to present a new alternative.

“Because we are on a timeline, we are kind of pushed on how to do it right. This is something we deal with every 10 years and there is no text book on how to do it properly,” Legislature Chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD8) said of the redistricting process. “We have to rethink how to do this the correct way. We have to have a timeline, but not a 90-day timeline.”

Proposed changes to the commission would include having co-chairs from both the Democratic and Republican Party, as well as extensive outreach to municipalities. During the commission meetings this year, there was limited engagement.

It wasn’t until the tail end of the process that municipal leaders and residents sounded the alarm on specific districts that were not favorable to existing communities

Legislator Kelly Preston (R-LD10) agreed with the need for bi-partisan co-chairs.

“We got hit hard last time that we were being political and gerrymandering. We were not,” Preston said. “We were trying to be fair to everyone. We were trying to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one.”

A subject of heavy discussion throughout this year has been the number of legislative districts in the county. After several discussions, changing the current number of 17 appears to be back on the table, according to Fitch. He added that he wants to involve people in the process.

Part of the new tasks ahead, the commission agreed, also include coordinating with county election authorities to discuss how the county’s current government structure and how election districts will work under new conditions.

The commission will meet in August to continue their discussion.