2022 was easily the hardest year that I have experienced as an Election Commissioner. That may seem odd considering the events of 2020, but it truly was a problematic year. Redistricting and the legal challenges that were brought in New York State dominated our electoral landscape. It changed districts, added elections, and generally sowed chaos into our electoral landscape. In addition, local Syracuse and Onondaga County redistricting added new wrinkles to a challenging mid term cycle. I went through the archives of dustinczarny.com to put together this month by month look back at 2022:
As the new year dawned the major force that shaped 2022 was starting to develop: Redistricting. In early January the New York State Redistricting Commission failed to come up with a second set of consensus maps leading the NYS Legislature to make the decision to draw maps themselves. Those maps were released at the end of the year. The two year anniversary of January 6th insurrection was also on our mind and I appeared on a zoom rally for Veterans Organize CNY to protect our Democracy. In mid-January, before the release of the maps John Katko, the CNY representative in congress since 2014, announced he would not seek re-election throwing that seat wide open with national implications. We also saw the dawning of new laws take effective, most notably the canvassing of absentee ballots before Election Day. This was the major change for 2022 and not only allowed Board of Elections to canvass ballots in a timely manner, it protected voters from outside challenges. The pandemic excuse was also extended for 2022 for absentees as well in light of the failure of the no-fault absentee constitutional amendment in 2021. Both were met with some grumbling by the NYS GOP, but no legal challenges. Early Voting was also expanded by statute which increased Onondaga County sites to 10. I was able to go on Capital Pressroom to explain these changes to a statewide audience.
The impact of Redistricting start to come truly into focus in February of 2022. The NYS Legislature passed Congressional, Senate, and Assembly maps that completely altered the electoral landscape of New York. I was able to appear on WSYR’s Newsmakers to discuss the redistricting process. The Congressional map drew the most fire and it seemed to heavily favor Democrats. This was immediately met with a legal challenge day into February, known as the Harkenrider decision. That legal challenge, filed in Steuben County, did not come with a stay which meant candidates had to announce candidacies and get ready to walk petitions on the new lines in February. Likewise, Boards of Elections had to draw new lines and prepare voter lists in less than a month after they were passed by the legislature. By the end of February almost a dozen candidates on both sides of the aisle had announced candidacy for the new #NY22 district, though most on the Democratic side. I was also honored to testify in front of the New York State Legislature, via Zoom, on the joint Assembly and Senate Budget hearings on the need to properly fund Board of Elections with dedicated state funding.
As the parties awaited word on the state redistricting, in Syracuse local redistricting was starting. Unlike the Onondaga County redistricting that was rushed and in a partisan process at the end of 2021, the newly formed Citizen led redistricting commission in Syracuse started its year long process. 15 independent citizens sought to redraw the City of Syracuse Common Council lines for the first time in 30 years. They started their months long open hearing process in March. I was able to provide testimony at their first hearing and submitted a set of maps. I also spoke at their second hearings as a city resident. Village elections in March were also a focus. After a botched ballot layout in 2020 put into doubt a close race, the Onondaga County Board of Elections took over the village of Fayetteville elections. It had unusual turnout in a another highly competitive race. We also saw other villages that ran their own election have calls to move to allowing the Board of Elections to run their election. The last day of March though brought about a major bombshell, the NY Senate and Congressional lines were thrown out by the Supreme Court judge, giving parties until April 11th to redraw lines, and setting a mid-August date for primaries for the NY Senate and Congressional lines.
As April dawned chaos was starting to set in with the electoral process. At the beginning of April Boards of Elections were in limbo as the original decision by the State Supreme Court in the Harkenrider challenge was appealed and an Automatic Stay was put in place as that appeal was heard. On April 21 the Appellate division affirmed the lower court decision giving the legislature until April 30th to draw constitutionally valid lines. That decision was then immediately appealed to the Court of Appeals (the highest court in NY) and on April 27th they ruled in favor of the lower court. They also ordered the Supreme Court use a special master to redraw lines. Assembly lines were not part of the original suit so they were ordered in place for 2022, however they could still be challenged separately for subsequent years. Mid-April Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin candidate resigned as he was indicted on several campaign finance charges. This led to a bit of chaos with the June primary as he was on the ballot for tat election and questions remained about whether Governor Hochul could replace him on the ballot as well as serving as Lt. Governor for the remainder of the year. I was honored this month to appear on a National podcast “What Voting Means to Me” talking about my journey in politics and my views on the important of voting.
At the beginning of May, thanks to recently passed legislation, Governor Hochul was not only able to seat Congressman Anthony Delgado as Lt. Governor, but he was also able to place his name on the June primary ballot. Delgado’s resignation as well as other congressional resignations and the added August 23rd Senate and Congressional primaries presented unique challenges for Boards of Elections. I appeared on WSYR’s Newsmakers to talk about how Boards of Elections throughout NY State were getting ready for these unexpected challenges. Onondaga County announced their Early Voting sites in May adding OCC Mulroy Hall, Lysander Town Hall, North Syracuse Community Center, and Beauchamp library to the previous six of DeWitt Town Hall, Lafayette Fire Station #1, Camillus Town Hall, and Clay Town Hall, Armond Magnarelli Center & Syracuse Community Connections. The City of Syracuse redistricting commission released Draft maps for their process and a schedule of more hearings over the next two months. A legal challenge to the NY Assembly lines was officially filed in May though it became quickly clear this would be decided well after this year’s election. Johnathan Cervas was appointed as a Special Master to draw maps for New York’s Congressional and Senate districts to be placed on a special August 23rd election. By May 21st after only a few hearings that only happened in Steuben County and only one set of draft maps, final maps were proposed set for final adoption in early June. We closed May with the release of the Dobbs draft opinion from the Supreme Court which proposed to eliminate Abortion protections nationwide. This added fervor mixed with the chaos of the NY Redistricting process to truly set the tone for the resto of 2023.
On June 2nd the court in Steuben County adopted the final NY redistricting maps. The maps tended to favor competitive seats and in Central New York the new #NY22 was made up of Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida Counties with a super small portion of the village of Cleveland. The two NY Senate districts in Onondaga County were completely redrawn. #SD50 represented by John Mannion paired the northern and eastern towns of Onondaga County and #SD48 represented by Rachel May paired the city of Syracuse, Western and Southern towns with the entire county of Cayuga. Ballot access was set for June and candidates for office that filed petitions in April thinking they were running in one district were allowed to port and change their assigned race. This led to new challengers on the GOP side in Congressional and Senate districts and on the Democratic side many congressional candidates moved to other districts or decided not to run at all. The NYS Legislature ended its session passing many bills for protection of absentee and affidavit ballots and enhancing voter registration, however many of the bills will not take effect till next year. June ended with our first primary this year as New York Democrats chose Governor Hochul and Lt Governor Delgado to be the Democratic nominees for Governor. The GOP also chose its candidate, Congressman Lee Zeldin to be their party nominee for Governor. Commissioner Sardo and I appeared on WCNY’s Newsmakers to discuss Early Voting and primary preparations.
Even before we were able to certify the June Primary, a further wrinkle was added to the 2023 calendar as Syracuse Common Council in the 5th district Joseph Driscoll announced his intention to leave office to take a position with Syracuse City Government on the I81 project. Also, Onondaga County Court Judge Steve Dougherty also retired opening up his seat. This led to confusion on how to replace them as well as running on an old line while the new lines were being drawn that in Syracuse I covered in a popular blog post. There was no time to rest in July as Board of Elections had to certify one primary while getting ready for another. I appeared on Connect NY to discuss the redistricting process and they also featured the good work of the City of Syracuse Redistricting Commission.
In what is normally a low activity month, this was one of the busiest months of the year for Boards of Elections and Onondaga County. In Early August the Syracuse Independent Redistricting Commission released final maps for the Syracuse Common Council districts. I testified in front of the Syracuse Common Council urging them to adopt the maps and fulfill their promise of citizen led redistricting. In the middle of August Onondaga County Democrats, including myself, announced the filing of their lawsuit on the County Legislature lines drawn last year. And of course, the August 23rd primary ended with closer than expected results as Democrat Francis Conole and Republican Brandon Williams narrowly won their primaries to be their party’s nominees for #NY22 General Election. In a preview of things to come there was a narrow race for the Conservative line in #SD48 triggering a hand count to take place in September.
The beginning of September started with a hand recount for #SD48 Conservative line. The hand count confirmed that Justin Corretti won the conservative race by just 14 votes. This setup a three-way race for #SD48 in November. I also appeared on Central Current Radio to preview the November General Election. Syracuse Common Council, in a 5-4 vote, approved the new Common Council lines finishing a three-year project to bring independent citizen redistricting to Syracuse. The decisive vote was by Jimmy Monto, the newly installed 5th district councilor in a vacancy created in July. I testified in front of the Onondaga County legislature successfully arguing for more resources at the Onondaga County Board of Election. September also had some personal milestones for me as I changed football allegiance to the Buffalo Bills, turned 50, and announced my intention to seek a 6th term as Elections Commissioner. However as has been the pattern for 2023, the end of the month had a bombshell hit, a lawsuit brought by the NY State GOP trying to alter the absentee counting in New York.
The beginning of October was dominated the by the late filed lawsuit by the NYS GOP. They sought to eliminate the pandemic excuse for absentee voting and pre-election canvassing for absentees, both of which had already been in place for the two previous primaries. Like the redistricting lawsuit the NYS GOP forum shopped to find a friendly judge. This judge took her time and issued an order upending the canvassing of absentees (though the pandemic excuse was left in place). The order that was dropped in late October was immediately appealed and overturned unanimously by the appellate division and Court of Appeals. However, the late decision and confusion regarding it threw Boards of Elections into chaos as some commissioners questioned how to canvass absentees. Eventually all absentee ballots were canvassed, without much incident, however a lawsuit remains likely in the new year as the suit was thrown out mainly due to the late timing. I appeared at a “Protect our Freedoms” rally on October 21, 2022, talking about the danger of election denial. Early Voting started in late October with the full slate of 10 sites in Onondaga County.
The November election mainly went off without a hitch structurally. While not as high turnout at the historic mid term of 2018, it was still an incredibly brisk pace. As with every election there were surprises and upsets as well as results that were incredibly close. Democrats won all statewide races in NY including the Governor’s race which was closer on Election Night than expected but eventually was over a 6-point win. O Election Night in Onondaga County we knew Locally Democrats lost all 4 Supreme Court seats in the 5th judicial seat. Ted Limpert won one of the two County Court Judge seats, splitting with the GOP. All four assembly Members easily won re-election with John Lemondes (R-126), Al Stirpe (D-127), Pam Hunter (D-128) & Bill Magnarelli (D-129) returning to Albany with Rachel May (D-SD48) in the NY senate. Democrats also defended seats in Syracuse, Manlius, and Pompey Town Board with the GOP defending a seat in Onondaga and a town judge in Pompey. There were three races too close to call on Election Night, Sheriff #NY22, and #SD50 with all races within the absentee ballot margin and possible for hand counts. At the end of the counting of late arriving absentees Toby Shelley became the first Democratic Sheriff in Onondaga County history and Brandon Williams ® was able to win #NY22. Both races were close but avoided the automatic hand count. #SD50 however was within 50 vote lead for John Mannion after the absentee count was done, flipping the 500-vote lead Rebecca Shiroff had on election night. This meant it was subject to a hand count starting November 29th which would last into December.
Normally December is meant for vacations and recovery from the November election. With vacations being cancelled in August this December we were looking forward to some time off at the Onondaga County Board of Elections, but it was not meant to me. The Onondaga County Board of Elections proceeded to hand count over 95k ballots in the #SD50 race and Oswego County Board of Elections did the same with 30k ballots. Due mainly to some tabulation errors at Oswego but also some ballots that were recovered during the hand count that otherwise wouldn’t have counted John Mannion’s lead feel to 17 as the parties went to court to hear over 100 objections brought by both parties on individual ballots. The judge eventually agreed with the objections of 23 ballots, resulting in a 10 vote John Mannion win. The ruling was delivered on December 21, 2022, at 4:30pm finally ending the 2022 election season. We also learned in December the NY Assembly lines court case received an order to have the NYS “Independent” redistricting commission redraw lines. That means we could see another round of redistricting for 2024. Now as the year ends redistricting in the Town of Camillus and Village of Solvay along with boundary changes in other villages as well as previous redistricting in Syracuse and Onondaga County have finally concluded and in the new year the Onondaga County Board of Elections will go about redrawing election districts and new maps for 2023.
As 2023 dawns I want to thank all of you for following along here at dustinczarny.com. I plan to look back at the year here at my website looking at some statistics over the next few weeks and recap it later in January. For now, I wash you a safe and happy New Year. Remember you can subscribe to dustinczarny.com for free and get all notifications on election news and content updates.