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St. Lawrence County towns are divided among four Assembly districts after the 2012 redistricting. Image: <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/maps/?sec=2012a">LATFOR</a>
St. Lawrence County towns are divided among four Assembly districts after the 2012 redistricting. Image: LATFOR

St. Lawrence county enters fragmented political reality

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If you live in St. Lawrence County and you're not sure who you're voting for next Tuesday, you're probably not alone. More than half of the county's towns are in new Assembly or Senate districts.

New districts were drawn up by politicians in Albany this year, and have been described as favoring incumbents.

In the process, they carve St. Lawrence County among four Assembly and three Senate districts. Many observers say that's bad for the county's influence in the state Capitol. And it's likely to cause confusion on Election Day.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

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It’s the last push at St. Lawrence County’s Board of Elections office in Canton. People are proofing and sending out materials to voting precincts, putting absentee ballots in the mail, and recruiting election inspectors.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Jennie Bacon says everything’s on schedule, but the new legislative districts have meant lots of double checking, and lots of complication. Bacon opens three drawers, full of the county’s 39 different ballots. That’s about double the number of two years ago.

She says the town of Brasher is a good example of how things have changed: "It added another ballot style. It’s the 47th Senate district and the 115th Assembly district."

Bacon says it is more complicated, but this isn’t what she’s worried about next Tuesday. "I think that we’re going to find that the biggest complication comes on Election Day when people go to vote and realize they are now in different Assembly or Senate district, because not everyone knows."

Of St. Lawrence County’s 32 towns, 17 –that's more than half – will have a new Assembly member or State Senator. Six towns – Clare, Colton, Parishville, Hopkinton, Piercefield, and Lawrence – will have a new Assembly member and State Senator.

So lots of people will have to vote for lawmakers they know little or nothing about. And those lawmakers may know little about them. Take the new 118th Assembly district. Both Republican Marc Butler and Democrat Joseph Chilelli live in southern Herkimer County, 150 miles from the northernmost point in the district, Madrid, near Canton.

"I think it dilutes our voice in St. Lawrence County", says Republican Scott Sutherland. Sutherland sits on the St. Lawrence County legislature. He says the towns of Piercefield, Hopkinton, Lawrence, and Brasher have been slipped into the 115th Assembly district, which has a center of gravity in Plattsburgh.

"Just to have four towns out of St. Lawrence County and having the rest be represented mostly over in Clinton County and Franklin County way, it doesn’t bode well for St. Lawrence County’s representation."

The notion here is lawmakers best represent the interests of the places that get them elected. If one part of a district only contributes a sprinkling of votes, it may get glossed over.

Members of both parties are concerned. Democrat and county legislative chairwoman Sallie Brothers says she’s already noticing the effect – candidates are campaigning less in St. Lawrence County and giving less attention to very local needs: "I don’t hear them going to Massena and asking them about serious drug issues that it’s encountering. I don’t hear them going to Ogdensburg to talk about the airport."

Of course, all lawmakers say they pay close attention to their entire constituency. Former St. Lawrence County legislature chairman Tom Nichols says they actually do, because when it comes to campaign time, every vote matters. Nichols is now the Republican Commissioner of the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections: "Having served 15 years in the legislature, I will tell you this. You never want to find yourself in a close race and have people remember that you didn’t listen."

There are plenty of common rural issues across these districts, big as they are – farming, hunting, a need for jobs. Nichols says there could actually be an upside to St. Lawrence County having seven state lawmakers: "It does give St. Lawrence County the opportunity to have more voices speaking on their behalf in Albany."

Republican Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush he doesn't "buy that." He says feet-on-the-ground facetime matters in understanding local issues, and the size of these districts inhibits that. And from the local point of view, it’ll be a logistical challenge if, say, the Parishville-Hopkinton school has a state issue. It would have to reach out to lawmakers based in Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, and Herkimer for help.

Blankenbush testified against the new districts, even though they make his seat safer. He lost a handful of St. Lawrence County towns and picked up a bunch in Oneida County - another county carved up several ways. 

Blankenbush says the fragmented counties also hurt newcomers seeking state office: "The way St. Lawrence County is broken up, you really don’t have a majority base of voters that may be able to help someone from St. Lawrence County get elected."

These districts are locked in for the next 10 years. So they’ll shape the way regional issues are handled. And they’ll likely mold the next generation of political leadership in St. Lawrence County.

 

St. Lawrence County towns are divided among three Senate districts after the 2012 redistricting. Image: <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/maps/?sec=2012s">LATFOR</a>
St. Lawrence County towns are divided among three Senate districts after the 2012 redistricting. Image: LATFOR
St. Lawrence County towns that are part of the same legislative districts as in 2010:

Canton, DeKalb, Edwards, Fowler, Gouverneur, Hammond, Hermon, Lisbon, Macomb, Massena, Morristown, City of Ogdensburg, Oswagatchie, Pitcairn, Potsdam, Waddington

Towns that are represented by new legislative districts following the 2012 redistricting:

Town Former District Current Legislator New District Candidate(s)
Senate        
Clare 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Colton 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Hopkinton 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Lawrence 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Louisville 47 Joe Griffo (R) 48 Patty Ritchie (R)/Amy Tressider (D)
Parishville 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Piercefield 47 Joe Griffo (R) 45 Betty Little (R)
Russell 48 Patty Ritchie (R) 47 Joe Griffo (R)
         
Assembly        
Brasher 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 115 Janet Duprey (R)/Karen Bisso (C)/Tim Carpenter (D)
Clare 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Clifton 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Colton 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
De Peyster 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 116 Addie Russell (D)
Fine 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Hopkinton 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 115 Janet Duprey (R)/Karen Bisso (C)/Tim Carpenter (D)
Lawrence 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 115 Janet Duprey (R)/Karen Bisso (C)/Tim Carpenter (D)
Madrid 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Norfolk 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Parishville 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Pierrepont 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)
Rossie 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 116 Addie Russell (D)
Stockholm 122 Ken Blankenbush (R) 118 Marc Butler (R)/Joe Chilelli (D)

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