After more than two months of intense back-and-forth, the Nassau County Temporary Districting Advisory Commission is entering its final phase of redrawing the county’s 19 legislative districts ahead of next year’s elections.
The commission is in the midst of tweaking each party delegation’s proposed redistricted maps, which were revealed last week. A tentative final vote is set for Nov. 21. The commission’s final recommendation will be handed over to the County Legislature for district lines to officially be drawn up.
But in the past two months, Nassau County residents have sought to weigh in on the process by providing feedback at a string of public hearings that kicked off on Aug. 31.
The once-in-a-decade practice of redistricting is more than an updating of the boundaries of the County Legislature’s districts to better reflect the county’s new post-census demographics.
Changing those lines changes the makeup of district voters. It can change the identity, allegiance, and political priorities of a district’s representative, and of the legislative delegation. It can also indicate whether a state’s diverse communities are adequately represented in its legislative bodies.
With so much hanging in the balance, the biggest concern for voters and advocates alike is the potential for these changes to go awry if a district falls prey to partisan gerrymandering by either political party.
It is a practice in which parties redraw district boundaries to split up, evade or pack together voters away from certain districts and toward others in an effort to swing the perceived odds of election victory in their favor.
Many South Shore residents who attended a hearing on Oct. 26 at Elmont Memorial Library not only expressed concern about a botched redistricting process, but also called for a clear departure from anything resembling the current district map — at least when it comes to redrawing their political turf.
Woodmere resident Michael Turi argued that the current district lines laid out ten years ago have politically fractured otherwise culturally and historically intact communities like those in the Five Towns.
“Seeing how the Five Towns was ripped apart from one cohesive legislator to then be put into four really hurt the Five Town residents,” Turi said. “They don’t know whom to speak to about what, based on where they live. I urge this committee to recombine the Five Towns into a single community.”
Resident Anthony Bonelli contended that the current map unfairly dilutes the voting power of minorities across places like Elmont and Valley Stream.
“The current legislative boundary lines negatively impact our minority communities disproportionately,” he said. “I simply urge the commission to correct the boundaries to provide more legislative representation to these harmed communities.”
“I want to emphasize the need for five minority-majority districts and keeping communities like Elmont and Valley Stream together,”said resident Amil Virani. “Currently, in Valley Stream, we have two different legislators, and the lines don’t make sense.
“You cannot drive or walk to the third legislative district. You actually need to take a boat to go through it. And you have North Woodmere in that district, which has nothing in common with Valley Stream and Elmont, diluting the influence of minority voters.”
Long Island Hispanic Bar Association President Veronica Renta said reintroducing the current maps as a basis for the next set of maps would be a mistake. She further argued that the old maps failed to give equitable representation for the Latino community and would fail to account for the current demographic growth in the Long Island Latino population as reflected in the 2020 census.
“This commission has the ability to draw five performing minority-majority districts and it can do that by keeping longstanding communities of interest together like Roosevelt, North Valley Stream, and Elmont,” she said.
A cursory look at the Republican’s preliminary map displayed during the Nov. 10 work session does not seem to stray wildly from the boundary lines currently in place. A pitch that, as it stands, could fall flat with a number of wary constituents in the South Shore looking for a more aggressive change.
But both sides, nevertheless, stand by their maps when it comes to using census data and observing the municipal home rule law, maintaining equal demographics and legal standards.
And both sides have also pledged to revise and revisit their current drafts. As of press time, however, it remains unclear whether another public hearing apart from the one held on Nov. 16 will be scheduled before the final vote later this month.
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