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Democratic legislators sue Onondaga County for gerrymandering

Democrats stand on the steps of Syracuse City Hall for a press conference, August 18, 2022.
Emma Murphy
Democrats stand on the steps of Syracuse City Hall for a press conference, August 18, 2022.

Democratic Onondaga County Legislators filed a lawsuit against Ryan McMahon and Onondaga County Thursday, claiming they gerrymandered new county districts. Democrats say the district lines violate the local charter laws as well as the state constitution and laws.

This is not the first time the legality of Onondaga County’s new district maps has been questioned. County Executive Ryan McMahon vetoed an earlier version of the maps in dispute today to try and avoid a legal challenge. Despite adjustments being made, Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson believes the maps were drawn strategically to aid Republicans in the legislature.

“When you look at the districts and the way they shape them out, specifically the 16th, the way they gerrymandered that district it broke up the voting block for the black community. So I think that for me if you’re going to be a leader, stand up and be a leader. Don’t just do things to hold power. And for me, it’s a power play for the county legislature. It’s not about the people they’re serving,” Hudson said.

Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny served on the county’s redistricting commission last year. He said these maps favor the current majority, and they do not reflect the county.

“PlanScore, a non-profit website by the campaign legal center, another non-profit entity, scored the plan in February of 2020 and said that in 94% of all results, Republicans would lead the county legislature. That is in a county where Democrats have a large plurality of registered voters. In fact, Republicans are the third in Onondaga County,” Czarny said.

Legislator Chris Ryan said this lawsuit is a last resort. He argued that if his colleagues would have opted to create a citizen-led redistricting commission rather than an appointed advisory committee, they wouldn’t be in this situation. Ryan says they should have changed the process after the last county redistricting in 2011.

“We could have learned. We should have learned. We could have done better. We did neither. Fast forward, 2021 with a rushed process, hence here we are here today,” Ryan said.

Czarny says they’ve asked for an expedited process, but they might not get a trial date for 30 to 40 days. The courts will have to act by the time petitioning for county legislature seats begins in March 2023.