Redistricting Working Group
One of the most important functions of the federal government is the conduct of a national census every ten years as required by the Constitution. That census plays a key role in determining how many seats each state will have in the United States House of Representatives, and this data is a key factor in the distribution of public and private funds throughout the United States.
Since the 1960s, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the apportionment of legislative seats in the Congress, state legislatures and local governments must be made in conformity with equal population as determined by the Census. In New York State, the criteria to be followed in local government redistricting are set forth in the Municipal Home Rule Law, and the provisions of that statute have governed the process in the City of Ithaca following the 2020 Census.
Appointment of the Redistricting Working Group
To initiate the process in the City of Ithaca, in December 2021 Mayor Svante Myrick appointed five City residents as members of the City of Ithaca Redistricting Working Group. He requested that they undertake an examination of the population changes that have occurred within the City over the last decade, develop a proposed redistricting plan in compliance with the relevant federal and state statutes and submit such plan to the Common Council for consideration. Common Council makes the final decision on redistricting.
The members of the Redistricting Working Group reside in each of the five current wards of the City:
Ward 1 – Henrik Dullea, chair
Ward 2 – Joseph Murtagh
Ward 3 – Jared Pittman
Ward 4 – Katie Sims
Ward 5 – Christopher Proulx
The Working Group has been primarily assisted in its work by Ruth Aslanis, the City’s Geographic Information Systems Administrator, and as required by Faith Vavra, Chief of Staff to the Mayor, Victor Kessler, Assistant City Attorney, Julie Holcomb, City Clerk, and Melody Faraday, Public Information Specialist. Greg Potter, Director of Information Technologies for Tompkins County, provided coordination assistance with the Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission.
Working Group Meetings
The Working Group held its first meeting via Zoom on December 20, 2021. The City Attorney, Ari Lavine, represented the mayor and laid out essential information concerning formation, charge, timetable, and staff support. The working group members agreed that they would work closely with the County Redistricting Commission, through sharing data and holding joint meetings to solicit public input and reactions. They further agreed that the first meeting of the joint group would be on Tuesday, January 25, at which the public would be invited to provide input regarding legislative districts for the county and ward boundaries for the city.
The Working Group has since met on a biweekly basis, starting on January 18 and continuing through March 15. The minutes from its recent meetings have been made available on the city website.
Statutory Guidelines for Redistricting
Chapter 516 of the Laws of 2021, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, sets forth the key factors that are to be considered by local governments in the process of redistricting. They are listed below in order of priority:
1. Equality in Population – Districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable. The difference in population between the most and least populous district shall not exceed five percent of the mean population of all districts. Census blocks determined by the Census Bureau must be used and cannot be divided. The City of Ithaca population in the 2020 Census was reported as 32,108; the average population for five wards is 6,421, and five percent of that average is 321. Prior to this redistricting process, the difference in population between the most and least populous district could be up to ten percent of the mean population of all districts.
2. Protection of Minority Voting Rights – Districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or
language minority groups to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.
3. Contiguous Territory – Districts must be completely contiguous with no intervening districts.
4. Compact – Districts shall be as compact as possible. Significant differences in the density of individual wards in the City of Ithaca create districts that vary substantially in geographic size while representing equal populations.
5. Fairness in the Political Arena – Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.
6. Communities of Interest – Existing neighborhoods and population groups and subdivisions shall be considered.
7. Election Administration – Districts shall be formed so as to promote the orderly and efficient administration of elections. For our purposes, this refers to being aware of issues associated with overlapping boundaries for city wards and county legislative districts.
Issues Identified at Public Input Sessions
The Working Group appreciates the comments and recommendations submitted by incumbent members of Common Council, the County Legislature and the public at the joint meeting with the County Independent Redistricting Commission that focused on both ward boundaries and legislative districts within the City. Additional comments have been submitted to the Working Group via email.
As indicated in the standards listed above, equal population wards must be our first priority. There are several factors that make this obligation more difficult this year than in the past. We must, for example, use the census blocks as provided by the U. S. Census Bureau in determining the size of proposed districts. The very large number of persons residing in individual census blocks associated with Cornell University is one such factor. As an example, two such blocks on North Campus are approximately the size of one-half of an entire ward, and there are similar challenges on West Campus and in Collegetown.
Low voter turnout in certain areas of the City is an issue that has been raised by several members of the public, but it is not a legally acceptable factor in redistricting. Student populations are clearly recognized in law as a community of interest, but for redistricting purposes they must be considered as individuals regardless of their voting status. Voter turnout is, however, a legitimate factor for local boards of elections in making decisions as to polling places.
Communities of interest most certainly do include traditional neighborhoods, and the Working Group has had extensive discussions concerning the recognition of such areas as Fall Creek, North Side – South Side, Washington Park, Collegetown, Cornell Heights, Belle Sherman and South Hill, as well as issues presented by low density in the West Side and population growth in Downtown. We prioritized keeping neighborhoods intact and together within a ward, even where that required a neighborhood to be re-aligned into a different ward.
The Working Group also sought to create districts that could serve as appropriate districts for the County Legislature. For this reason, as well as challenges posed by varying population density across the City, the Working Group is proposing to retain five wards.
Welcome Public Reaction to the Proposed Plan
The Redistricting Working Group has tried to find the best possible balance among the factors that must be considered in developing a new redistricting proposal for the City of Ithaca. We are releasing the proposed plan to the public via the media and the City website, and we invite the public to register for the purpose of making comments at our next scheduled meeting on March 29 at 5:30 p.m.
Based on the comments received at the public meeting on March 29, the Working Group will meet again on April 12 to determine whatever modifications may be necessary and to decide on a plan to be submitted to Common Council not later than April 26.
The City of Ithaca 2022 Redistricting Working Group is composed of one member from each of the City's five election wards. This group is responsible for proposing new election ward configurations based on the 2020 U.S. Census data to ensure equal representation for all city residents. The Working Group will present their final recommendations to Common Council for consideration and approval later this Spring.
The first meeting of the mayoral-appointed working group convened in December 2021. City Attorney Lavine shared logistical information concerning the formation and charge of the group, along with the expected timetable for the work and the availability of staff support. The Working Group members agreed to work closely with the Tompkins County Redistricting Commission through data sharing and conducting joint meetings to solicit public input.
The first meeting of the joint City/County group was held on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.
Available Meeting Minutes:
February 1, 2022 Meeting
Available Meeting Recordings:
You can submit questions and comments to the Working Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.