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The Lofty Goals of Reapportionment

On Tuesday, Dennis Ward, the Democratic commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections, presented a number of possible new county legislative district configurations to the commission charged with redrawing the districts to comply with new Census figures and reduce the number of districts from 15 to 11. The examples, Ward told the commission, were intended to demonstrate that it was possible to accomplish both goals without breaking the law that prohibits splitting up municipalities with populations that are equal to or less than the population of a legislative district.

Specifically, the laws says that any municipality whose population is 110 percent or lower than the population of the median legislative district must not be divided. In Erie County, that means municipalities of about 90,000 or fewer should be contained entirely in one legislative district.

In response, Republican Erie County Legislator Ray Walter, who serves on the commission, characterized compliance with that law as a lofty goal but perhaps impractical. (Had the commission determined whether the statute was simply advisory, Walter asked the chair, Adam Perry of the law firm Hodgson Russ. No, Perry answered.) In saying so, Walter may have tipped the hand that he and his Republican colleagues and three allied Democrats intend to play: They will divide municipalities as they see fit to preserve Republican districts, while pitting Democrats against one another.

Under the current, 15-district scheme, municipalities that should not be split between legislative districts by law are divided: Lancaster, for example. But the fact that the law has been broken previously will not prevent lawsuits from flying this time around.

The commission will hold three public hearings next week on the reapportionment process: Tuesday, April 12, at ECC City Campus; Wednesday, April 13, at ECC North Campus; and Thursday, April 14, at ECC South Campus. All three meetings begin at 5pm.

geoff kelly

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