CANTON - The north country's state legislators will lose thousands of residents in the next round of redistricting, mostly to New York City, because of a new law on counting prisoners.
The 2010 law mandates that when the state redraws its political boundaries to account for population shifts - a way of making sure each New Yorker has roughly equal representation - prisoners must be counted at their last known address, instead of the prison in which they reside.
Last known addresses are often in New York City; of the state's 67 correctional facilities, 58 of them are north of Westchester County.
The lawmakers have spoken out against the measure and some have even filed suit against it. They depict the fight as an issue of adequate representation: The new law dilutes the north country's advocacy in Albany, they argue, even while the residents that won't be counted here anymore drain local resources.
Figures compiled by the state Assembly from Department of Correctional Services and Community Supervision data show that the following numbers of residents won't be counted in the north country anymore, despite the fact that they physically reside in jails here:
* Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa: 1,872.
* Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River: 1,481.
* Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome: 1,842.
* Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton: 3,231.
Politicians just to the east stand to lose the most in their respective chambers: Assemblywoman Janet L. Duprey, R-Peru, would lose 7,715 residents, and Sen. Elizabeth O'C. Little, R-Queensbury, would lose 11,610.
Relative loss of population in the north country compounds those on-paper losses. That means legislators' districts must somehow find more residents. Flanked by Canada and similarly anemic districts, many north country districts have little flexibility to grow. Legislators will represent wider swaths of already-wide territory.
Mr. Griffo and Mrs. Ritchie have joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, which was passed in 2010. The lawsuit claims that the law is unconstitutional. Mrs. Russell, who voted to approve the law but disavows that particular portion because it was part of a larger budget package, has also spoken out against it. Mr. Blankenbush said he is also against the law, and other aspects of the state's redistricting process.
On Tuesday, Mr. Blankenbush called on the task force redrawing the state's lines to hold a public hearing in the north country. In July, it held a public hearing in Syracuse.
"All too often, the north country is ignored by Albany politicians and it is troubling to me that local residents and community officials would not be given the opportunity to discuss redistricting," Mr. Blankenbush said in a news release.
The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment has held meetings in Albany. Districts must be in place by early next year. Because of an unrelated fight - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Senate Democratic minority don't want lawmakers drawing their own lines, but the lawmakers have been reluctant to relinquish that power - the matter could be left up to the courts to decide.