Nassau County Republicans and Democrats remained far apart when it comes to redistricting the county legislature. And as a final map is expected to be released this week — if not already — some who gathered to see drafts proposals in Mineola seemed displeased, too.
Redistricting happens once every decade, coinciding with the census, and happening at all levels of government. Battles raged earlier this year over statewide maps determining congressional districts and state officeholders. And it was no different last week when the public had a chance to speak out about the maps used to determine who will represent them in the county legislature.
It was, of course, a meeting that also included claims of “gerrymandering,” from people like SUNY Binghamton political science professor Daniel Magleby, who defined the term as districting that typically gives one political party “an unfair advantage by diluting opposition’s voting strength.”
“This is a textbook, example of what a packing gerrymander looks like,” Magleby said of the maps, comparing them to the last time the county redistricted, and what he described as an “extreme partisan gerrymander and an outlier relative to this ensemble of maps.
“Both maps — the 2013 map and the Nov. 10 Republican proposal — show patterns of systematic bias against Democratic voters in ways that underweighs their influence on elections in this county.”
Even Francis Moroney, chair of the committee in charge of reviewing the maps, agreed with Magleby.
“We all know that their proposal is blatantly illegal,” he said. “So it is not surprising that they are trying to shield the map from public view, and it made it impossible for the public to understand why they are proposing what they are proposing. We cannot ignore the fact that the severe segregation and discrimination in Nassau County is a result of gerrymandered maps.”
But if there was a lack of transparency on the Republican side, it wasn’t much different than what was happening on the Democratic side, said committee member Peter Bee.
“They ambush you,” he said. “That’s their job. They’re trying to paint a picture that doesn’t exist. From our point of view, a Democratically controlled Assembly, a Democratically controlled Senate, to the Democratic governor enacted a law that said redistricting shall be done in a particular manner.”
The main goal, Bee explained, is “one person, one vote,” that is that “each legislator should represent roughly the same number of people.”
“I think our map has a smaller deviation in population than does the Democratic map,” Bee said. “The state law also says that you are not to deny racial or language minority groups their participation in politics. We do not think that our mapping has done so.”
But each map has its flaws, according to civil rights lawyer Frederick Brewington, describing those problems with terms like “stacking,” “packing” and “cracking,” which he says creates an unequal balance of power.
“It’s very important for you to understand that the reason why so many people are here, there is no hope that you’re going to do the right thing,” Brewington said. “But there is hope that we can take this to a place where they will say that you did them wrong. And as a result, we made the record for you, so you can’t say you weren’t warned.”
Brewington implored the committee to think of voters when designing the maps, while also looking inward.
“When you take a look at your own map, please, everybody, look at it in the mirror,” he said. “Look at yourself and evaluate whether or not am I, as a human being with authority and power, will hand this map over to the legislature so that they can do their dirty work?
“And if that’s your vote, shame on you. But God bless.”
The committee was expected to finalize its maps on Monday.