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A 63rd senator possible in New York

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New York’s state senators might have to scooch over just a little bit to welcome the 63rd senator into their ranks.

In a message posted Friday to a state Legislature website, a legislative task force confirmed plans to add another seat to the state Senate, increasing membership from 62 to 63.

The plan was met with vocal opposition by Senate Democrats and could provoke a lawsuit. It would ease the population crunch that upstate Republican senators are facing as the state redraws its political boundaries and make 2012 easier for Republicans to cling to their 32-29 edge in the state Senate.

“This is nothing more than an illegal power grab by the Senate Republicans,” said state Sen. Martin Dilan, a Democrat who sits on the Legislature’s redistricting task force, known as LATFOR. “Not once did LATFOR leadership convene a meeting to discuss the size of the Senate, at least one in public or with good intentions.”

A Senate GOP official rejected that assertion, saying that the move was not only legal, but required because of population changes. The official also said that adding a seat would avoid “sprawling, unwieldy” districts.

Those are exactly the sorts of districts in the north country, where the population is sparse and the districts are huge. State Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, represent areas that have become too small because of relative population decline, but it’s difficult to make them any bigger because they abut Canada and other senators who are also facing decline.

The ideal district size is taken by dividing the state’s population by the number of seats in the Senate. If the number of seats in the Senate is increased, each senator will have to represent fewer people, bringing Sens. Griffo and Ritchie closer to the average. That means their districts will have to change less.

Sens. Griffo and Ritchie also got good news when an agreement between Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats blunted the population losses they had suffered because prisoners won’t be counted in prison cells anymore.

Mrs. Ritchie will now lose 3,167 prison inmates in the census, and Mr. Griffo will lose 1,755, according to figures posted to LATFOR’s website Thursday evening.

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