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One Man, An Indeterminate Number of Votes

On Saturday, committee members of the Erie County Democratic Party will meet at Hearthstone Manor in Cheektowaga to elect a new chairman, replacing Len Lenihan, who is retiring after 10 years on the job.

If this means nothing to you, you are forgiven. “News of the Weird” is on page 31.

There are a couple changes to the way committee members will vote this time. In the past, committee members have raised their hands and hollered to cast their votes, often dutifully following the instructions of their town or zone chairs. This year the vote will be accomplished by secret ballot, which means some committee members may make free to vote against the wishes of the bloc to which they belong.

The other difference is complicated. (“Free Will Astrology”—page 36.) Usually, each member of the committee casts a weighted vote, the value determined by the number of Democrats to have cast votes in the last gubernatorial or Assembly race in the election district that committee member represents. But we’re coming off a fresh redistricting process, and some election districts have changed. Because it’s difficult to calculate the weighted vote in a newly formed or reconfigured election district, state law says that in such cases a committee member’s vote should be determined by total Democratic enrollment in the district—a much larger number, given how few of us regularly exercise the sacred franchise.

By itself, this seems unfair: Some districts, entirely unchanged, will use a weighted vote determined by participation in the election of Governor Andrew Cuomo; others will vote total enrollment. Why not level the playing field and have all committee members vote total Democratic enrollment in their election districts?

The question becomes more squirrely still: There are some districts whose borders are unchanged but which have been assigned a new name. Delaware 004, for example, is indistinguishable from the old Delaware 003. Only the name has changed. And yet Delaware 004 is being treated as a newly created district, and thus its committee members will vote full Democratic enrollment, giving them a outsized say in who becomes the next chair of the party.

The greatest beneficiary in this reconfiguration are Democrats in Amherst, where all but one election district changed, meaning the value of their votes will reflect nearly the total Democratic enrollment in the town.

The Amherst town chair has committed the votes he controls to the party’s former executive director, Jeremy Zellner, who is running against Buffalo attorney Marc Panepinto and Cheektowaga town chairman Frank Max. Panepinto recently told us that he reckons he and Max each have 20 percent of the committee’s vote in hand, while Zellner is running slightly ahead of them. But about 40 percent of the weighted vote remains uncommitted.

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