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Tell It To The Judge

I arrived 10 minutes late to Monday morning’s public hearing called by Erie County Executive Chris Collins on the redistricting and downsizing plan passed by Democrats on the Erie County Legislature. Five minutes later, it was over. Only three people offered testimony: two town officials and a representative of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. All three opposed the Democratic plan; the League of Women Voters objected to the process as a whole. Collins asked if there was anyone present who wanted to speak in favor of the plan; hearing no volunteers, he said he’d make his decision whether to approve or to veto the plan “in a day or two.” He signed his veto the same day.

Such alacrity has been a trademark of the county’s redistricting effort this year: The advisory commission convened late, met seldom, and discussed little; public input received only terse consideration; the commission was dissolved by its chairman, Adam Perry of the law firm Hodgson Russ, who was appointed by Legislature Chair Barbara Miller-Williams, immediately after a sudden vote approving Perry’s blatantly partisan plan. A modified version of this plan was subsequently rejected by the Legislature’s newly reconciled Democrats (eight of nine anyway; Miller-Williams is now at sea, alienated from her fellow Democrats and useless to Republicans unless she brings at least one of her fellows to their caucus) in favor of an equally partisan plan.

So what happens now? The six Republicans on the Legislature have vowed to uphold the Collins veto; Democrats cannot override without both Miller-Williams and one Republican and will not accept the modified Perry plan. The affair is destined for the courts, which is where it ended last decade, when legislators failed to agree on a redistricting plan in response to the 2000 Census. Then, a judge ordered the 17-member Legislature—eventually reduced to 15 members by a 2002 referendum, just as this Legislature is meant to be reduced to 11 members, per last year’s referendum—to adopt a clumsy weighted voting system until a redistricting plan was adopted. A judge may order the same remedy this time around, but that would entail an order that candidates for the Legislature run within existing district lines this fall—which, while it would allow those candidates finally to start petitoning and campaigning, would mean a delay in the downsizing approved by voters last fall. Disaster.

geoff kelly

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