Examiner: Redistricting Coalition presents nonpartisan map to Nassau County Legislature

Redistricting Coalition presents nonpartisan map to Nassau County Legislature

Dozens of activists representing the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition gathered on the steps of the Nassau County government building in Mineola to present an alternative redistricting map to the widely blasted Republican map that emerged from the Temporary Districting Advisory Commission.

Democrats on the commission also presented a map that was received somewhat better, in that it makes minimal changes to existing districts. But after seven months and $500,000 in taxpayer funding, neither of the maps received the necessary six votes to be officially recommended to the Nassau County Legislature, which is now free to consider any map it chooses, including the map created more than a year ago in secret by Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli.

The Nassau County Legislature must vote to approve new maps for Nassau County by March 5th.

The coalition, consisting of a half-dozen good-government organizations, preparing its map in just a month's time and at a fraction of the $500,000 which was spent on the Commission, want its map to be considered by the Legislature.

And they are calling for transparency and a new series of public hearings.

They mocked the Republican map which was introduced without backup or explanation as "shameless partisanship and self-dealing," "egregious" and "gerrymandering" in order to create a permanent 12-7 supermajority on the County Legislature.

In contract, the Coalition map has extensive explanation of the demographics, including an overlay that shows the minimal changes in lines from each existing district.

The Coalition map shows that it is quite possible to create districts that are compact, contiguous and still fall within the allowed +/-5 percent of the targeted population, 70,573 (includes prison population).

During the press conference, the three maps were put up against each other, and the contrast especially with the Republican map - widely panned as a crazy quilt or a Swiss cheese and a blatant exercise in gerrymandering.

The proposed Republican map displaces 680,000 people into new districts - that means that half of Nassau County's 1,340,882 total population would be uprooted to new districts, an unprecedented proportion.

In contrast, the 2003 redistricting map resulted in 50,000 people being shifted into new districts. Then map proposed by Democrats displaces a minimal number of voters, since they approached the project from the perspective of minimal changes to existing districts.

The Coalition map offers the most compact, contiguous districts, and for the most part keeps villages and towns intact.

The Coalition map corrects some of the most egregious mash ups of the Republican map - which ripped away Kings Point, Saddle Rock and parts of the Village of Great Neck from the 10th District and attaching them to the 11th district - a change which would dilute the Jewish vote substantially. The coalition map keeps the Great Neck Peninsula intact, and combines parts of New Hyde Park which is part of the Great Neck School District, plus Herricks, Searingtown. This change means that the Asian population will increase from 16% to 21%.

The Republican map also was broadly derided for tearing the Five Towns into three or four parts. The coalition map keeps the Five Towns (District 7) intact and meets the population target by taking off Island Park and Harbor Isle and putting them where they are geographically connected, with Long Beach, which is kept together.

The biggest changes - reflecting the growth in population- are in Districts #2 and #9.

In the Coalition plan, District #2 is now much more compact - that area, Garden City, is where the population really grew.. "Every plan has to have major changes to #2," said Brian Paul, Research and Policy Coordinator for New York Common Cause, who was the principal mapmaker.

But he added, "This plan is subject to improvement based on what the community says."

District #9 has the biggest change: putting New Castle with Mineola, making the district much more diverse, but keeping it entirely within North Hempstead.

"We tried to follow village borders," Paul said. "We started by analyzing the current map based on the criteria, and how best to keep communities together and make districts more compact.

"With technology, it doesn't take that long to draw a plan," he said, saying that it took him a month - including holding meetings and making presentations with the member groups- and at a fraction of the cost the Commission spent.

The coalition is funded with a grant from the Hagedorn Foundation (www.hagedornfoundation.org), which supports and promotes social equity across Long Island.

The Coalition consists of six different organizations: Common Cause/NY, La Fuente-Long Island Civic Participation Project, Latino Justice PRLDEF, League of Women Voters of Nassau County, Long Island Civic Engagement Table, and Nassau County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Paul said that the Republican map that the Commission proposed is "egregious". "We thought the state process was horrible, but at least they made the information public. We can't even get the proper files from the commission. The Democrats released half of the information; the republicans didn't release anything. they are not interested in transparency.

"This is extremely important for the voting rights affecting all Nassau County," said Fred Brewington, an attorney and activist "the Republican plan moves over half of the population to different districts, separates brother from brother, sister from sister. The whole point of redistricting is completely unfair and insidious" especially in the way District 2 and District 10 were divided.

"I am serving notice, to let them know we're not going to take this no more," he said. "We will take them to court. Be ready, because we are."

(View the Nassau United Redistricting Coalition’s plan here:www.nassauunitedredistricting.org/coalition-plan/)

“Nassau County voters are being systematically disenfranchised as pawns in the partisan power grab which has become the redistricting process,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. "The Coalition Plan is being presented to the Legislature as a viable alternative to demonstrate there are no practical obstacles to creating a fair plan.”

“By listening to Nassau County residents and applying fair redistricting principles our Coalition was able to draft a preliminary map in this important decennial decision on governance and democracy,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice. “We urge the County Legislature to restore trust and conduct an open process to ensure full community engagement for a new districting plan before its vote in March 2013.”

“The League of Women Voters of Nassau County was very disappointed in the advisory commission. They did have hearings around the county, but didn’t seem to listen to the comments," said Barbara Epstein. In addition the meeting the maps were presented on January 3 with no discussion amongst the commission members. We hope that the legislature will give serious consideration to our map and do what is in the best interests of the residents of Nassau County not their political parties.”

“This Temporary Districting Advisory Commission has really been a waste of time, other than to provide the public with another example of how elected officials and their appointees waste tax payer dollars,” said Lucia Gomez of La Fuente Long Island Civic Participation Project. “Every resident of Nassau should be disappointed with the TDAC’s proposed maps and support our Coalition’s proposal, and ask their legislator to do the same.”

“Nassau legislators must stop their shameful efforts to divide communities of color” said Daniel Altschuler of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table. “Common-sense redistricting is essential for a healthy democracy, but unfortunately the new map proposed by County Republicans seems designed to dilute the power of Nassau’s growing African-American, Latino, and immigrant communities. Immigrants and communities of color are a growing part of Nassau and deserve fair representation, not the gerrymandering we see in the proposed maps.”

“Fair and equal representation is the cornerstone of American democracy, and improper redistricting can result in unequal representation in voting districts, dilution of minority votes, and fractured communities,” said Jason Starr, Director of the Nassau Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The Nassau County Legislature has the responsibility to protect public confidence by conducting an open and transparent process to develop a new districting plan.”

“I live in Elmont and I’m sick and tired of seeing partisan officials trying to silence my community and other communities of color across Nassau County,” said Mimi Pierre Johnson from New York Communities for Change and the Long Island Civic Engagement Table. “All it takes is one look at the maps proposed by county Republicans to see that the new districts don’t make any sense for our communities. These maps were designed by politicians to help other politicians, and dilute the power of my neighbors and myself. We demand fair maps, districts that make sense, and equal representation!”

\"With no money, we came up with a better map," said Jackson Chin, Latino Justice. "We want to make sure the next decade is not one of hyper partisanship and dysfunction."

Coalition Demands for the County Legislature

"The Coalition is demanding that the Legislature put an end to partisan dysfunction and move forward with a fair, transparent process in the best interest of the County and all its residents," the Coalition stated.

- The Legislature must release its proposed redistricting plan to the public by January 25, 2013, one month in advance of the next scheduled public legislative session.

- At least four public hearings must be held on the proposal during the following two weeks and the public’s comments shall be considered.

- The Legislature must give serious consideration to the non-partisan proposal of the Nassau United Redistricting Coalition and allow an opportunity for the coalition to present the plan to the Legislature in further detail.

- The Legislature’s redistricting plans must be made publicly available according to the practices of other New York redistricting processes (e.g. LATFOR at the state level, the NYC Districting Commission). This entails the release of PDF maps, demographic spreadsheets, and block equivalency files via the County website and an opportunity for the public to comment on any maps and submit testimony electronically.

- The Legislature’s redistricting plans must be accompanied by written descriptions of the districts and explanations of the criteria and reasoning behind their shapes.

- The final plan the Legislature will vote on must be released to the public one week in advance of the final vote. The public must be allowed an opportunity to comment on the final proposed plan before the Legislature’s vote.

The Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition will be holding an informational webinar presenting the Coalition Plan and comparing it to the plans proposed by the Temporary Districting Advisory Commission on Thursday, January 17 at 10:30am.

The Coalition will also be hosting a series of public forums in key locations around the county in late January and February, dates to be announced at www.nassauunitedredistricting.org

Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition Map

The Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition determined to draft a reform redistricting plan after witnessing repeated displays of partisan dysfunction by the Legislature’s Temporary Districting Commission.

"The Temporary Districting Commission did little at the hearings to reflect any sort of “'i-partisan' character, openly acknowledging that they operate as two functionally-separate entities. So we are left with a process that has failed to honor the spirit of the county charter. And proposals that, because of the failures of the process, cannot be said to reflect the realities as expressed by the people. Our sentiment is that process has been neither fair nor non-partisan, and we question the legitimacy of districts drawn without real public input," the Coalition stated.

"The Nassau United Reform Redistricting Plan offers a clear alternative to the partisan dysfunction and hyper-partisan gerrymandering that has come to characterize the Legislature’s official process. Instead of treating Nassau voters as political pawns to be divided or pitted against one another for the benefit of one party or the other, this Coalition draft plan begins with the existing Legislative districts and adjusts them based on the following traditional, objective redistricting criteria." These are:

  1. Equal Population – follow the principle of “one person, one vote” in the US Constitution by drawing districts and exercising good faith to create equipopulous districts with a population deviation of no more than +/- 5% from the ideal average value.
  2. Voting Rights Act/Fair Representation for Racial and Language Minorities – ensure that districts maintain the rights of minority (racial and linguistic) groups to have a fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates and to engage in the democratic process. Nassau County legislative redistricting should reflect the strong growth in the County’s minority communities. From 2000 to 2010, the non-Hispanic white voting age population declined by nearly 9%. NH Black VAP rose by 17% while Hispanic VAP and NH Asian VAP rose even faster, increasingly by 49% and 68% respectively
  3. Respect for Political Subdivisions — district lines should respect the borders of towns and villages whenever possible, keeping residents with common interest together in a single district and helping facilitate a stronger relationship between town and village officials and their county-level representatives.
  4. Respect for Communities of Interest — generally defined as a local population with shared socio-economic characteristics and political institutions that would benefit from unified representation by a single legislator. A local community with unified and cohesive political leadership tends to have stronger influence in the legislature. On the other hand, if a community with shared interests is redrawn and divided by political district lines, the representation of those interests will also be divided and weakened.
  5. Compactness & Contiguity – district shapes should be as compact as possible and districts should connect separate areas divided by water or other impassible features.
  6. Limiting Uses of Partisanship and Political Data — follow an “incumbent blind” process and one that does not utilize any political data (percentages and actual data related to voter registration, voters’ membership data by political parties, election races, turnout rates by precinct, etc.) or seek to advantage any particular political party in drawing the lines.

The Coalition’s proposed district map reflects the critical districting principles and attempts to respect the important districting principle of maintaining communities of interest as well as reflecting their community growth trajectories.

Paul noted that the Coalition map, dated January 3, 2013, is subject to further change and revisions in the coming weeks as it receives comments and information from additional residents and community groups who seek to become engaged in this process. "The broadening of community input and participation is an important objective to the decennial districting process which often occurs with insufficient transparency and a want of fairness."

The Coalition will therefore timely submit subsequent versions of the United Reform Map for Nassau County along with their corresponding census data and other factors, to members of the Nassau County Legislature.

The non-partisan Coalition has a publicly accessible website that invites public participation and dialogue.

For more information, visit www.nassauunitedredistricting.org.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner

© 2013 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved.


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