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Sun., Oct. 4
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On constitutional amendment, where's the teeth?


The Legislature is set to advance a constitutional amendment that would permanently change the way the state draws its own boundaries, but some critics — a Senate Democrat and one good government chief — say it's not good enough.
I'm sure there will be a bunch of reasons that explain how insufficient this proposal is, but I want to focus on one: the population deviation gerrymander.
Here's how it works: Senate seats are about to be around the same size. But they can deviate from that number by 5 percent more than the average or 5 percent less than the average.
And with that 10 percent fluctuation, Republicans in the Senate have made the districts up north vastly underpopulated. On a district-by-district basis, it's a few thousand fewer people than the average, but when you add it all up, there should be one fewer district in Republican upstate and one more in Democratic New York City.
The Assembly, mind you, does the same thing, just in reverse. But in the Senate, the entire thing hinges on one vote — at least it did, before a certain state senator was booted and four joined the Independent Democratic Caucus.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's original proposal would have fixed that. All districts would have had to be within 1 percent of the mean, allowing for much less wiggle room. North country districts would have grown much larger, and overall, upstate would have had room for one fewer Senate seat.
But the constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. Dean Skelos doesn't have that same fix. It just says that if the population deviates more than the allowed number, the panel will have some 'splaining to do. But, it leads one to ask: Where's the teeth?
It conceivably could allow mapmakers to continue to underpopulate upstate Senate districts and overpopulate upstate Assembly districts.
As I've written before, this gives one north country voter a much stronger voice than one New York City voter, which is a good thing, if you don't care about fair government.
There are plenty of balls still up in the air — congressional lines, the primary date, Senate and Assembly lines — and when they all land, who knows what this constitutional amendment will look like?
But if it doesn't start to look much better than this, it'll be a hollow victory for those who campaigned on promises to fix the system.

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