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Remap needs to be open; Public input must be considered as Legislature redraws districts

Politicians aren't normally known for artistic fairness when drawing new lines in the sand, which is why the public must demand an open process in the upcoming redistricting for a reduced 11-member Legislature.

So far, the process is somewhat unremarkable.

The Erie County Legislature's Advisory Committee on Reapportionment is asking citizens who want to propose new districts to do so by May 6. The committee will review those maps at 10:30 a.m. May 9 on the fourth floor of Old County Hall.

Committee members individually or in groups are also working on their own maps. Those have to be presented by April 29 and will be reviewed at 1 p.m. May 2 at the same location.

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

That's the news on the matter but behind the scenes, politics is often ugly business. Consider, the Legislature creates a committee of citizen advisers each decade to guide redistricting, but county law says only that such a committee has to be created. The Legislature doesn't have to heed its advice.

For those involved and all affected, this disconnect can be frustrating and is all the more reason to keep pushing for an open and fair process.

It's fine that Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward wants the designer of any map to discuss how it meets or violates the Voting Rights Act. This is a legitimate concern for those in large minority areas, where some foreshadow the possibility that two minority legislators, Betty Jean Grant in District 7 and Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams in District 3, could end up together in a new district.

It's an argument recently made by an Another Voice writer, Patrick Fitzgerald, a third-year law student at the University at Buffalo. He wrote that the New York Home Rule Statute, the state law guiding the redistricting, may be overridden by the federal Voting Rights Act.

There are issues of geography, minority voting power and population size to consider. It doesn't bode well that the advisers have already started arguing. Committee Chairman Adam W. Perry recently said he doesn't think they will be able to agree on one map to recommend to lawmakers. Instead, the panel might have to present two or three.

Worse is the concern among the panel's Democrats that Republicans will divide towns to dilute Democratic votes while keeping Republican towns intact. Amherst and the City of Buffalo are too big for single legislative districts.

In a move that should please some advocates, state prison inmates are now to be counted as residents of the communities where they lived before imprisonment, not as residents of the town where the facility is located. Collins and Alden, home to correctional facilities, will be affected by that decision.

Redrawing political lines is a process that needs to do more than just give lip service to public input. The redrawn legislative map must incorporate the best and most equitable ideas regardless of who proposed them.

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