Nutty Monroe County Legislature Elections Laws

I’ve been working on my Monroe County Legislature page on RocWiki, plugging along and adding details as I go. For assistance, I’ve been relying on a few members of the Legislature who’ve been good enough to lend their assistance. One of those has been Carla Palumbo. Another is the outgoing Majority Leader, Bill Smith, who has been instrumental in helping me navigate the sometimes quirky legal maze that is the Monroe County Legislative process.

In fact, we’ve discovered that the Monroe County Charter is not available online, and he’s told me he’s looking into getting that posted to the website, which would be a huge step towards a more open government for Monroe County. After all, how open can you be if no one knows the rules?

But in working on the page, I noticed what I thought was a discrepancy.  In fact it’s just a bit of nutty – and it appears largely Monroe County-exclusive – rules making. Looking up the bios of Legislators, I had thought that I was safe in assuming that they got elected on four-year cycles. But in discussing this with Mr. Smith, he said that terms were limited in the Legislature to ten years. . .

Wait. I’m no matha-bu-tician, but I’m pretty sure that 10 doesn’t divide by 4 easily. . .

So, what gives? Well, here’s the deal. The entire Monroe County Legislature is on what amounts to a ten-year cycle, and while that may not necessarily mean that the Legislature refreshes itself uniformly every decade, it does make for even election cycles between U.S. Censuses. Here’s how it works:

Monroe County Legislature – Rochester Wiki

Elections and Term Limits:

The Legislative districts in Monroe County are redistricted outlined in the previous section. The next election after the census (say, 2001, to make the math easy) elects Legislators to a four-year term. In the following election period, 2005, a random lottery is drawn from which 14 districts get picked to have 2-year terms and 15 are picked to have 4-year terms. Those that drew the 2-year term will be elected to a 4-year term in 2007 and those that got 4-year terms will get a 2-year term election in 2009. So, there is a cycle for Legislative districts between two and four year terms such that they each get 10-year cycles between Census.

However, it is entirely possible that someone could be elected in 2007 to a 4-year term, win another election in 2011 (which is after the Census and therefore a 4-year term), then be in the district that gets a 4-year term for 2015, which would be 12 years total. In this case, the Legislator would forfeit the last two years and have his party select an interim replacement between 2017 and 2019.

Whoopha! Did you get all that?  So basically, the idea is to keep Legislator’s terms limited to ten years even as they keep the Legislative districts even by organizing the elections to a ten year, Census-based schedule.

I can’t say I approve of this schedule, though.  Term limits are fine, and short term limits for County government is probably even better, since it gives lots of people in the community a chance at government.  But why do we need to go through all the gyrations to get a ten-year cycle?  Wouldn’t the easier option have been five-year terms?

And clarity over confusion is important because it is difficult enough to get people to pay attention to local politics, but worse when local politics become so completely inscrutable.  When there doesn’t even seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to the election cycle – when people just see names in boxes while voting, signs on roads while driving, but don’t really know what they’ve voted for – it makes the whole process seem so far from relevant to people.

And beyond enticing people to their civic duty, there is the question of whether or not that civic duty is being manipulated, slightly.  If the rule is “one man, one vote,” isn’t that vote being watered down when someone votes for a two-year position while someone elsewhere votes for a four-year term?  Does that not almost make your vote half as important? 

There is also the issue of when an incumbent of eight years faces a challenger on a Census year.  The challenger will serve four years, but the incumbent will serve only two, after which an unelected representative will take over.  Since incumbency is such a strong card in politics, especially after two successive elections, that leaves the concern of underrepresentation.

I’m sure there’s nothing nefarious going on, here, but it’s a bad system.  No disrespect to those who’ve helped me, but I mean, ONLY an agreement among lawyers could possibly be this unnecessarily convoluted.  I suppose the unpopularity of five-year terms probably has something to do with voter turnout on those odd years.  Fair enough.  But to my way of thinking, that means you’ve gotta get out on those streets and start chatting up your constituency to get them to the polls, and that’s a good thing.  I think seeing my County Legislator at the local fair would be a good thing.  Very folksie.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

1 reply on “Nutty Monroe County Legislature Elections Laws”

MC leg term limits don't really exist. See Irondequoit Post 7/19/12 article regarding Legislator Esposito resigning. Former legislator Aldersley was picked to fill the vacant seat, she has already served 10 years as a legislator. As stated in the article it has been "well established" however, that a legislators who had previously been term limited can run again after a hiatus' Aldersley said, pointing to Legislator Karla Boyce, R, Mendon, as one example, she served from 1993 to 2004, and was reelected in 2011."
Well some much for term limits, more like term suggestions. This is BS, does this mean we mights see George W back again in the White House.

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