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Syracuse lawmakers approve independent redistricting commission

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

Syracuse lawmakers have agreed that an independent commission should decide what city election districts look like next time they are drawn.

Supporters of the idea say Syracuse will be the first city east of the Mississippi to let a non-partisan group create political boundaries. Common Councilor Khalid Bey said politicians usually draw the lines, and this way they have no involvement, ensuring a truly equitable process.

"This is an opportunity to level the playing field to give a citizen a chance to have a meaningful vote," said Bey.

Monday's vote follows a failed attempt by Onondaga County lawmakers to create a non-partisan redistricting commission earlier this year. Dewitt town board member Karen Rigney hopes the city's vote sends a message to the county.

"To a large extent this is encouraging the county to do the same, to follow suit," said Rigney. "Because honestly, the whole county is so gerrymandered, it’s the candidates choosing the voters instead of the other way around."

Lawmakers haven’t changed election lines in the city’s five districts in almost 20 years, but would be able to do it following the 2020 census.

Onondaga County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny said populations have shifted and new communities have been created since the last time district lines were redrawn.

"How those communities have changed is important and that’s what redistricting is about. And for the first time citizens will have direct input on this," said Czarny.

Voters in Syracuse have the final say on the issue. Any change to the city election laws needs to be approved by a voter referendum.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.