Albany County diluted minority voting power in its 2011 redistricting plan, a federal judge ruled Tuesday in a decision that temporarily freezes this year’s legislative elections until a new plan is drafted. Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn’s 81-page decision orders the county to submit an amended map of its 39 legislative districts within three weeks -— a timetable aimed at minimizing disruption to an election calendar that begins in June. The defeat marks the third straight time the county will be forced to alter its political lines amid a challenge under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act — a landmark piece of legislation aimed at protecting the franchise of minority voters. “With rare exceptions, there is not yet an equal, fair opportunity for minority-preferred candidates to be elected on a county level absent special circumstances,” Kahn wrote, calling the county’s entire redistricting process “questionable.”
That reality, the judge said, persists despite the rise of “vibrant and more impactful” black leadership in recent years and “laudable progress to address racial disparities.”
In ruling against the county, Kahn accepted expert analysis that white and black citizens continue to vote as a bloc in a way that usually defeats the candidate preferred by minorities. The county offered no statistical rebuttal to that after its expert witness effectively backed out of the case.
Mary Rozak, a spokeswoman for County Executive Dan McCoy, said officials were “still reviewing all options” whether to appeal. “This was a predictable outcome,” said voting rights activist Aaron Mair of Guilderland, who testified against the county in the case and called the county’s actions “a willful attempt to disenfranchise the minority community.”