Low student voter turnout may lead to the elimination of a city district overwhelmingly populated by students if proposals discussed by Ithaca’s redistricting commission Wednesday are implemented.
The plans are being reviewed by an independent commission of local residents, but concerns about student voting patterns were raised at the board’s first public meeting Wednesday.
“Just look at the number of students who voted at Robert Purcell Union,” said John Hurt, former ward chair of the 5th Ward Democratic Committee. “And the representation on local committees is nill.”
Nancy Schuler, a member of the city’s redistricting commission, echoed Hurt’s concerns.
“Only 50 students voted [in the mayoral election] on West Campus last year,” she said. “There’s a problem [with] using geographic features instead of neighborhoods to determine voting districts; the issues aren’t always the same.”
The city currently has five wards, none of which correlate with the five county legislative districts that fall only partially within the city’s borders. This division makes election procedures more complex, according to Elizabeth Cree, Republican commissioner of elections for the Tompkins County Board of Elections.
To simplify elections in the future, Tom Frank, chair of the redistricting commission, outlined a plan to reconcile city wards with county districts so voters within each given ward would all vote in the same legislative district.
“The county legislature is proposing to put four legislative districts strictly within the city, so if the city adopts four wards, you solve the problem of overlapping districts at a high level,” Frank said.
One plan proposed at the meeting would eliminate one of the city’s five wards and reduce membership on the Common Council by two. Another would eliminate the same ward and split the remaining four wards into eight, with one alderman elected from each.
According to county legislator Kathy Luz Herrera (D-5th District), who attended Wednesday’s meeting, the suggested plans may perpetuate a trend of overlooking student voters.
“When I first came here, I thought it was unfortunate that local politicos didn’t like spending time in student districts,” Herrera said. “That’s basically disenfranchising them.”
While plans proposed at the meeting are still under consideration, some local political figures have praised redistricting efforts at the city and county levels.
“I’m very proud that both the city and the county have established independent redistricting committees,” said Irene Stein, chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. “Tompkins County is the only county in New York State to have done so, and the city followed suit.”
Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire