If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's bill on legislative redistricting passes, the north country's state Senate seats could change dramatically, owing to shifts in population and boundary lines of districts that already have among the fewest constituents in the state.
The bill's passage, however, is a big "if."
Upstate Senate districts — including the 48th, represented by Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and the 47th, represented by Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome — have fewer residents than the state average.
Depending on whom you ask, that's a result of population trends or, alternatively, a viciously partisan process of drawing districts.
The Senate's rules allow districts to represent 5 percent more or 5 percent fewer residents than the state's desired average — the result of dividing the state population by the number of Senate districts: 62.
After the 2000 Census, the last time the district boundaries were drawn, the average came out to 306,072. The boundaries of the 48th District at that time contained 290,925 residents, or 4.95 percent fewer than the state average, barely squeaking under the 5-percent limit, according to statistics provided by the Senate Democrats. That made it the least populous district in the state.
If Mr. Cuomo's bill is passed, districts' populations would be required to fall within 1 percent of the state average.
So, assuming the bill is passed and an independent, nonpartisan panel is convened, it would have to find more residents to fit into the district to fall within 1 percent of the state average per district.
"That's going to be very difficult for these districts up here," said Robert N. Wells, an emeritus professor at St. Lawrence University, Canton. "They're going to have to go down deeper into the Thruway."
Bucking the trend of population flow from upstate, Mrs. Ritchie's district, which contains Fort Drum, actually saw an increase in its number of residents.
According to the Democrats' analysis, based on the American Community Survey numbers from 2007 to 2009, her district increased by 3,079 people.
But the state population also rose. And it outpaced the 48th District's growth, so, according to the American Community Survey, the 48th District had 6 percent fewer residents than the state average.
The 47th District fares even worse with population trends.
With 291,303 residents as of the 2000 Census, the 47th District contained 4.8 percent fewer residents than the state average.
Over the next few years, the district lost 4,813 residents, according to the 2007-2009 American Community Survey. According to those numbers, the 47th District had 8.6 percent fewer residents than the state average.
The Census Bureau will release more definitive numbers in March, but the challenge that Mr. Cuomo's bill poses is clear: somehow bringing more residents into the 47th and 48th districts to meet the 1-percent standard. That will have to happen while also maintaining numbers in surrounding districts.
So, while expanding the already vast districts is one possible solution, the Senate also could pare down the numbers of Senate seats, Mr. Wells said. If that happens, there's a good possibility it will happen upstate or in the north country, he said.
Mr. Wells and Senate Democrats said that Mr. Cuomo's bill did not specifically address the issue of whether an independent panel would be able to pare down the number of districts. The Senate now controls how many seats exist.
Before that mathematical reality can be addressed, the issue must, of course, pass the Senate and Assembly and be signed by the governor.
It's been the subject of ongoing political intrigue. When contacted about the 1-percent challenge, Sens. Ritchie and Griffo said through spokesmen that they remained committed to nonpartisan redistricting, but myriad proposals abound. In addition, the most pressing issue right now is the budget, they said.
"There's a lot of proposals out there," said James E. Reagen, Mrs. Ritchie's spokesman. "She's going to look at all of them. ... Her main focus at the moment is the state budget and jobs. Redistricting is one of her priorities, but her first priority is on how to get the economy going again."
Rayan Aguam, Mr. Griffo's spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement: "He'd prefer to vote on a redistricting reform plan before the legislature adjourns for the summer. Until that time, he thinks that most New Yorkers would prefer him to remain focused on completing work on a project that has a harder deadline — 38 days — and that's the budget."
Mr. Aguam also noted that Mr. Griffo previously has signed on to redistricting reform bills, including a bill that would have meant a county could not be represented by more than one senator. That ostensibly would quash the gerrymandering strategy of divvying up districts into bizarre shapes to ensure certain populations fall within them — the word "gerrymander" is a portmanteau of a Massachusetts governor's name and the word "salamander," which is what one of the gerrymandered districts was said to resemble.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats again hit their Republican counterparts with the issue.
Spokesman Travis Proulx accused Senate Republicans of not letting any senator sponsor Mr. Cuomo's bill, which sent it to the Senate Rules Committee; Mr. Proulx said that effectively kills the bill. Democrats learned of the development on Tuesday, Mr. Proulx said.
"What they have done is basically ensured the death of this legislation by refusing to let any of our members sponsor it," Mr. Proulx said. "This is exploiting Senate rules to trap legislation."
Senate Republicans had a different view on the governor's bill.
"We have introduced the governor's program bill and will continue to review it," Scott M. Reif, a Senate Republican spokesman, said in an e-mail. "Redistricting reform is important, and as you know, there are a number of different bills that have been advanced. While we will focus more closely on this at the appropriate time, our top concern right now is passing a responsible, on-time budget that doesn't raise taxes."