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Nassau may see battle over redistricting

Nassau could have new county legislative districts before the end of next month -- if a court doesn't halt a Republican-backed redistricting plan.

Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) Monday called for the Republican-controlled county legislature to vote on new boundaries for the 19 legislative districts on May 23 -- just before county Republican and Democratic parties hold their nominating conventions for the November election.

Schmitt cited an opinion from County Attorney John Ciampoli, a former Republican elections lawyer, which said the county charter requires the legislature to approve a new reapportionment plan within eight months of the release of the new U.S. Census. Those numbers were made public April 1. After receiving a similar opinion from his own legal counsel, Schmitt said he has asked Ciampoli to draw up the appropriate legislation.

Democrats -- who are in the minority -- however, promise a court challenge. They contend the redistricting should be done next year for the 2013 elections after extensive public hearings in the affected communities. "Once again we see the Republicans in Nassau overstepping at the expense of the voters," said Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs. "We will fight it in court and I look forward to taking it to the people for their reaction."

Democratic lawyer Steven Schlesinger said Republicans are ignoring a section of the election law that requires the county clerk to certify those offices up for a vote eight months before the election. He said County Clerk Maureen O'Connell did that March 3, so it is too late to make changes in district boundaries.

But Schmitt said the legislature needs to act now because the census shows illegal variances in the population of five districts -- when all districts are supposed to be of the same size. "If we know as a legislative body that we have districts that are out of variance, we are acting in an unconstitutional manner that violates one man, one vote," he said.

Asked if the new lines have already been drawn, Schmitt said, "I'm having them done right now."

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