When it comes to redistricting, not all counties in New York state are created equal.  

Some counties are “chartered” and therefore do not have to follow the redistricting standards outlined under the Municipal Home Rule Law (MHRL). The practical outcome of this is that a chartered county’s ruling party can pretty much draw the lines any way it sees fit.

State Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who represents Scarsdale in Westchester County, has been fighting this peculiarity since the early 1990s when she led that community’s chapter of the League of Women Voters.

“What we saw in Westchester, was that Scarsdale was, and still is, a very Democratic town. The county board at the time was Republican and the way they thought they were going to keep their majority was to essentially divide up my little town,” she explained to Capital Tonight in September.

Paulin’s fight went all the way up to the Court of Appeals, where she lost.

“We learned that, because Westchester was a chartered county, it didn’t have to follow the whole Municipal Home Rule Law, which outlined standards – one of which was, you had to respect municipal lines,” Paulin said.

In 2021, Paulin and another Hudson Valley lawmaker, state Sen. James Skoufis, sponsored a bill A.229c/S.5160b that updates the provisions of the Municipal Home Rule Law (MHRL).  

The bill passed. It was sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk last Friday.

Hochul now has 10 days in which to sign the bill (excepting Sundays), which means she would need to sign the legislation by Nov. 3.

If signed, it will take effect immediately.  

In Onondaga County, where the current round of redistricting has been causing tumult, that could have far-reaching implications.

Like Westchester, Onondaga County is self-chartered. The Republican-led Onondaga County Legislature has been in charge of map-making for multiple rounds of redistricting. Not surprisingly, the minority Democrats have been crying “gerrymander” loudly since at least 2010.

Additionally, this year, Democrats are alleging that Republicans are “rushing” through the redistricting process, which doesn’t have to be completed until February.

“They’re doing everything out of order, in a quicker fashion than they need to have happen,” said Dustin Czarny, the Onondaga County Democratic Board of Elections commissioner who also serves on the county’s redistricting commission. “We have three months to get this done and they’re compacting it into 21 days.”

Republicans deny they are acting especially fast.

“We’re not rushing. We’ve never rushed,” countered Republican Onondaga County Redistricting Commissioner and attorney Kevin Hulslander. “If you look at other districts in other counties, for instance, Niagara County, Erie County, Monroe County, they have taken the same chronology that we’ve taken with respect to public hearings and commission hearings.”

True or not, if Gov. Hochul signs the Paulin/Skoufis bill, Democrats will have an immediate legal foothold with which to sue the Republicans over their maps. 

“We will have to see what maps are eventually passed by this commission. But I know there is a lot of fervor out there about the old maps. We feel if this legislation was in place 10 years ago, we definitely would have sued over those old maps,” Czarny told Capital Tonight. “If the Republican majority pushes through legislation that divides our community again, and they push it through in a lame duck session of the county legislature, yes, we’re going to look into every avenue possible to fight this.”

Indeed, the already fraught redistricting debate is taking place amid an election season in which all the Onondaga County legislative seats are up for re-election.

But attorney Kevin Hulslander doesn’t believe the governor will sign the bill. 

“There’s been a lot of discussion about this,” Hulslander said. “Believe me, if [Hochul] wanted that to be law, she would have signed it.” 

According to the Hochul administration, the governor is currently reviewing the legislation.