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Threat of lawsuit prompts change in redistricting

A new reapportionment plan that slightly alters voting districts in the Town of Shelby has satisfied constitutional concerns raised by the New York Civil Liberties Union and staved off a threatened lawsuit against Orleans County.

Scott A. Forsyth, counsel to the Genesee Valley Chapter of the NYCLU, said Thursday that a plan unanimously passed Wednesday by the County Legislature for its own voting districts addresses his organization's claims of "one person, one vote" violations of the 14th Amendment.

"It has alleviated our constitutional concerns," Forsyth said. "There is always a question of whether it is the best policy, but we don't go that far. We focus on the law."

As a result of the action, Election District 3 in the Town of Shelby will be taken from Legislative District 1 and transferred to Legislative District 2.

"The Legislature decided that it was in the best interest of Orleans County taxpayers to make a slight adjustment to the current legislative structure," said Legislature Chairman David B. Callard, "rather than enter into a protracted legal confrontation with the civil liberties union, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars."

Forsyth wrote the Legislature in May to point out what he called violations of Supreme Court interpretations of the 14th Amendment mandating no more than a 10 percent variation in population between the Legislature's largest and smallest districts. He said the action taken by the Legislature on Wednesday essentially satisfies that requirement.

But county legislators were not thrilled by the action, according to Callard. In a statement before Wednesday's vote, he said the Legislature maintains that the old structure could have been legally maintained.

"Redistricting, when not required, would only become a politicized issue," Callard said.

He also complained that the NYCLU had given the Legislature only a week to legally set in motion the redistricting process before it threatened to bring the suit against the county, hinting at political motives.

"One week is hardly time for a citizen group to be formed and to deliberatively discuss the issues," he said.

Still, Callard said he now believes the plan brings Orleans County into compliance with "one person, one vote" provisions, while preserving geographically contiguous districts.

"If the one or two who have been driving this request wish to pursue it through a lawsuit, so be it," Callard said. "But this Legislature will not be intimidated or threatened by politicos, and the people will ultimately know how the cost occurred."

Forsyth, however, emphasized he anticipates no further legal action.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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