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Onondaga County Legislature votes down independent redistricting along party lines

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Chairman David Knapp.

The Onondaga County Legislature voted down a proposal to create an independent commission to redraw district lines after the 2020 census. The vote was along party lines with 11 Republicans voting against it and six Democrats voting for it. The proposal would have taken the redistricting process out of the hands of elected officials and given it to a selection of citizens.

It was sponsored by Legislator Chris Ryan, who spoke at a rally of about 100 people outside the Legislature before the vote, calling for an end to gerrymandering.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
Legislator Chris Ryan

“District maps are penciled in and erased so that people in political power can keep their power. This is not what democracy looks like,” Ryan said to cheers from the crowd. “Here is what democracy looks like.”

But Chairman David Knapp and other Republicans called the proposal very complicated, costly, and could violate the state constitution.

“This has not been tried in many places,” Knapp said. “The two communities that have, spent nearly $1 million on lawyers and consultants to try and figure this out. And in a time with the pandemic and budgets and trying to keep county employees on the job, this could be a very significant cost for us.”

The Republican Caucus is proposing some changes to the current redistricting process, including appointing people to the commission who are not registered to a major political party.

“The changes that we’re going to make will be positive, increase citizen involvement, increase transparency, and take out some of the vested interest that were concerns of the past,” Knapp said.

Those amendments will be introduced at a Ways and Means Committee meeting next week.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.