Residents in Onondaga County could soon have say in how legislative districts are broken up.

What You Need To Know

  • A new bill could allow non-partisan citizens to shape the legislative districts in Onondaga County

  • The county legislature will vote on the bill next week, if it passes it will be put on the ballot in November for voters to decide

  • The citizen-led commission in charge of redistricting would have 17 members of the community representing the demographics of the county

Currently, it’s up to elected officials and their appointees to draw the map, but a bill to be voted on in the legislature next week could change that. 

“Years ending in zero are very important years,” said Onondaga County Board of Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny. “When talking about redistricting, because next year we will get our census data back and we will start to redraw the districts.”

Czarny is one of the people who would create the new Onondaga County district map, if a new bill doesn’t pass.

Aome say the current map has some questionable shapes. But Legislator Chris Ryan is trying to change that. He put forth the bill that would create a citizen-led commission to redraw the new map instead. 

“I think we could do better.” said Ryan, the legislator for the Eighth District. "I think the previous process led to districts that aren’t representative of good districts.”

It’s something he says he’s been working on for about three years. A previous version of the bill did not pass in the legislature. This bill is modeled after similar efforts in other cities, like Syracuse, where last year, the common council approved an independent commission to draw new district boundaries.

He says when citizens draw the legislative lines, it’s fairer.

“They’re not cut up; they are not gerrymandered, if you look at certain areas and certain districts,” said Ryan.

The commission would include 17 people from the community. Members must be active voters, voting in three out of five prior elections. They will also be barred for five years from running for public office. Ten members will be chosen randomly, and those 10 would choose the other seven. 

“I think putting the ability and the power back in the hands of the citizens, we all would be better served for,” said Ryan.

The public would also be heavily involved, as there will be at least 10 hearings throughout the process. Czarny says 15 out of the 17 legislators signed a pledge that they would approve the bill. He says when non-partisan people are involved, it can even lead to higher voter turnout and civic engagement.

“I think It would lead to more competitive races, and I’m always for that,” said Czarny.

If the bill passes in the legislature, that will bring it to the ballot in November.​