Time to look at redistricting reform

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In the last majority-party-focused redistricting process, several communities were divided into two or even three districts. Any sensible person who looks at the new map and sees how some of these districts are configured has to scratch his head. Legislative District 3, for example, is unconnected by any streets. Legislator Carrié Solages actually has to drive through other districts to get from the north end of his district to the south end. District 14, meanwhile, represented by newcomer Laura Schaefer, somehow includes both Garden City and Bethpage, which are nearly 10 miles apart, a noteworthy distance in a compact area.

Everyone can’t be made happy when new district lines are drawn. Redistricting is an imperfect process, but it certainly can be made a lot better in Nassau County. The county’s charter requires that an advisory commission be established, with an even split of Democrats and Republicans, and also sets a timetable for it to complete its work. Beyond that, there is little other guidance — no requirement for the commission to agree on a plan, no requirement for public hearings. That was why the process ended up looking the way it did last year.

Revisions to the charter seem necessary to improve the process in the future. We need a system that essentially forces the two sides to work together, and that ensures that constituents’ voices are heard. When the ground rules of redistricting are left too ambiguous, that is an invitation to a hyper-political process that aims to protect those in power. Changes to the charter will take some time, so those discussions must start now.

The Nassau United Redistricting Coalition has brought the issue to the forefront of conversation again. The organization has presented ideas for a citizen-led redistricting commission, and presented effective models from elsewhere in the state and the nation.
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