We Demand a Fair Map for Nassau County
by Mimi Pierre Johnson, Peter Rosenthal,Delbys Torres [Original article here]
The politicians are at it again, abusing their power for partisan gain.
Faced with unanimous public criticism of their county redistricting plan, on Monday Nassau County’s Republican-controlled legislature plans to adopt a gerrymandered electoral map that would likely guarantee them a supermajority for the next decade. The process has taken place almost entirely behind closed doors, without opportunity for robust public input.
Redistricting is essential to our democracy. Governments re-draw electoral maps every ten years to reflect shifts in population and demographics. Districts should contain roughly the same population, be as compact as possible, heed minority voting rights and political boundaries, and respect communities of interest—areas that share common economic, ethnic, and social features.
Fair redistricting allows a community to vote together to elect its representative who will fight for it to get its fair share of county resources and programs and make sure its interests are represented at the legislature.
There is, however, another, way to draw maps. Instead of empowering voters’ choice, partisan mapmakers can draw snakelike shapes most favorable to their party. The Republican proposal sent from the Rules Committee to the full legislature this week – which includes districts stretching from New Hyde Park to Bethpage, and from Elmont down to Inwood – does just that.
The majority’s plan packs Democratic voters into as few districts as possible – opening the opportunity for Republicans to win a 13-6 supermajority and one-party rule in the Legislature.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves and her colleagues in the legislature’s majority have farmed out their judgment to partisan political consultants and party operatives. The courts may ultimately deem this proposed map illegal, but we do not need a judge’s ruling to know it is reprehensible.
When politicians divide communities of color in Hempstead, and pack together voters from communities as different as Elmont and Inwood, they show they have little faith in democracy.
The legislature’s secretive process further demonstrated this contempt for the public.
Despite receiving $500,000 in taxpayer money, the Temporary Districting Advisory Commission apparently never even met to consider a bipartisan plan. Instead, with little notice, and without ever producing drafts for public comment, the Republican commissioners produced their own partisan plan last month.
A similar scene played out at the Rules Committee last week, when Mrs. Gonsalves sat unmoved through five hours of public comments from residents who unanimously decried the Republicans’ amended map. When residents asked for an evening hearing to accommodate working residents, she refused. She seems determined to pass the map through the full legislature on February 25th without ever substantively responding to criticism, let alone altering the map in response.
As community advocates, our organizations—New York Communities for Change, the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, the League of Women Voters, and La Fuente—have joined with the Nassau United Redistricting Coalition to prove that there is another way. Last week, we testified against this map and presented an updated version of our own non-partisan map. There is no such thing as a perfect redistricting plan. Crucially, however, we have gone out to communities to educate people, asked for community feedback, and made adjustments.
District maps are essential to democracy, but they can also be its undoing. In light of Nassau County’s changing demographics—including rapidly growing African American, Latino, and immigrant communities—we need a new map that embraces our diversity while keeping communities together.
Unfortunately, the legislative majority seems afraid of change and intent on silencing residents. This strategy is bound to fail in the long term, as voters perceive legislators’ unresponsiveness. But there is still time for Mrs. Gonsalves and her colleagues to redeem themselves: they should call an evening public hearing and amend their maps to respect diversity and unify communities like Hempstead, Elmont, and Five Towns, rather than seeking to further pull us apart.
Mimi Pierre-Johnson is a member of New York Communities for Change. Peter Rosenthal is a member of the League of Women Voters. Delbys Torres is a member of La Fuente-Long Island Participation Project.