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County snafu tangles voters on two streets in Black River

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For almost 10 years, residents along two roads in the village of Black River were voting in the wrong county legislative district, the result of a decade-old snafu that was caught only a few months ago.

The Jefferson County Board of Elections has redrawn the map to accurately reflect the law for one last election, but not before an untold number of votes were cast incorrectly for legislators.

“I was just a little bit surprised that I found out about it, actually,” said Jefferson County Legislator John D. Peck, R-Great Bend, whose district was supposed to include LeRay Street and the northern side of Howe Street, but did not. “I have 30 to 50 more constituents than I previously had.”

No election from 2003 to 2011 was close enough to make a difference in either district, but a political mess was only narrowly avoided. It’s also possible that some residents of that area might have run for an open seat, but did not do so because they were not aware of it.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years to account for shifts in population, so legislative districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Assembly and Senate and county boards of legislators have their boundaries redrawn to be comparable to one another in size.

But something went wrong when the Jefferson County Board of Legislators redrew its boundaries a decade ago. The professionals who work there now struggle to explain the error, which predated their time in charge. But it appears that mapmakers in the Board of Elections drew the district differently than the Legislature had designated.

District 5, now represented by Republican Legislator Michael A. Montigelli, should not have included the northern side of Howe Street or LeRay Street. Those streets should have been in the district just to the east, District 7, which is represented by Mr. Peck.

Mr. Montigelli discovered the problem only because he is running for election Tuesday to fill a vacancy left by former Legislator Steven T. Harter, who resigned from the board after he moved to the town of Watertown. Mr. Montigelli was appointed to the board over the summer, and has to win election to fill out the remaining year of the two-year term. He has no opponent.

“The only reason I even looked at it is because I was appointed to the district,” Mr. Montigelli said.

That means that without Mr. Harter’s resignation from the board, the error would have gone unnoticed. The county Board of Legislators redrew the maps again this year, and they will go into effect after the 2013 elections. The part of Black River that is in the town of LeRay is not split up under that plan. It will be in District 5.

Jerry O. Eaton, the Republican elections commissioner, said that with advances in technology in the past 10 years, such an error is unlikely to occur again.

There were few opportunities in the past 10 years in the Republican-heavy district for a challenger to emerge. For most of the decade, it was represented by Kenneth D. Blankenbush, who became chairman of the Board of Legislators. In 2010, he was elected to the state Assembly.

In 2011, Mr. Peck defeated Robert J. Peluso, 138-86, in a Republican primary. All of the residents on Howe Street and LeRay Street could have voted for Mr. Peluso, and it’s still not clear whether that would have put him over the edge for a victory.

But the Republican Party dodged a political bullet by appointing Mr. Montigelli. Jennifer Dindl-Neff, a LeRay town councilwoman, was one of the names discussed to replace Mr. Harter when he resigned. She is a resident of Howe Street. The northern side. She believed for 10 years that she lived in District 5. In reality, she lived in District 7.

And if she had been appointed to serve as the county legislator in District 5?

“That could have been a real mess,” Ms. Dindl-Neff said.

Had she been appointed, Ms. Dindl-Neff would have represented a district in which she did not live, violating a basic requirement.

The state Board of Elections has a website for looking up the county legislative districts where voters live. Mr. Eaton said it is now up to date with the change in Black River. The website can be found at www.elections.state.ny.us.

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