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Panel asks public for County Legislature remap ideas; Sets May 6 deadline for citizen proposals

The Erie County Legislature's Advisory Committee on Reapportionment asks citizens who want to propose new districts for a reduced 11-member Legislature to do so by noon May 6.

The committee will review those maps at 10:30 a.m. May 9 on the fourth floor of Old County Hall, after reviewing, at an earlier session at 1 p.m. May 2 at the same location, maps proposed by committee members working on their own or in groups, which must be presented by noon April 29.

The 15-member advisory committee will seek public comments about the maps -- to be posted on the erie.gov website -- at a hearing set for 5:30 p.m. May 11 at Erie Community College's City Campus.

The committee is putting a public face on a politically charged process that can play out behind the scenes as well as in open sessions. The major parties want districts that favor their candidates, or at least don't put them at a disadvantage. Party operatives have been known to craft their optimal designs in private.

The Legislature creates a committee of citizen advisers every decade to guide redistricting. But county law mandates only that such a committee be created, not that the Legislature adopt its recommendation.

With the schedule laid out for this month and early May, it appears that panel members will soon be showing their hands on their preferred districts.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward, one of the most outspoken members, said the designer of any map should be prepared to discuss how it meets or violates the Voting Rights Act.

Maps should create districts that are close to the same size, protect the voting power of minorities, protect geographic communities of similar interests and, as much as possible, keep towns and cities within one legislative district when they contain fewer people than are found in a standard-sized district.

The 15 advisers have already been arguing. Committee Chairman Adam W. Perry revealed Tuesday that he does not think they will be able to agree on one map to recommend to county lawmakers. He said the panel might have to present two or three.

"Whether I would like to have a consensus, I am dubious as to whether that is possible," he said. "We might submit more than one map to the Legislature."

Some Democrats on the panel say they fear that Republicans will divide towns to dilute Democratic voters while keeping Republican towns intact. Perry seemed to favor keeping towns intact, except for Amherst and the City of Buffalo. Both are beyond the size of a standard legislative district.

"It appears that all towns within the County of Erie, with the exception of Buffalo and Amherst, could be within a single district," Perry said. So far, town boards in Newstead and Eden have asked that their towns remain in just one district.

The committee has posted instructions for anyone who wants to draw a map of the 11 new legislative districts that adjust for population shifts found in the 2010 census and the voter-approved move to reduce the Legislature from its current 15 members to 11. The directions are on the erie.gov website.

State prison inmates are to be counted as residents of the communities where they lived before imprisonment. They will no longer be counted as residents of the prison towns. This provision affects Collins and Alden.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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