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Report: Overhaul Nassau redistricting

Civic groups are calling for the formation of

Civic groups are calling for the formation of a redistricting commission as they rally in Mineola on the steps of the Nassau County Executive Building. (Jan. 27, 2014) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County should overhaul its process for redrawing electoral lines to limit gerrymandering and protect minority voting rights, a report by good government and watchdog groups said Monday.

About a dozen members of the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition rallied outside the Nassau County executive and legislative building in Mineola before presenting their 28-page report at a county legislature meeting. The report contains recommendations designed to encourage more participation by independent voters in the once-a-decade redistricting process and limiting influence of political parties and county employees.

"The system is broken," said Steve McFarland, Nassau organizer for the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, one of the coalition's nonprofit groups. "We have a redistricting system that puts partisan interests over the interests of voters." Other coalition members are Common Cause New York, the League of Women Voters of Nassau County, and La Fuente-Long Island Civic Participation Project.

In 2011, the GOP-led legislature approved a redistricting map that put four Democratic incumbents into two districts. After Democratic lawmakers challenged the plan, the state Court of Appeals ruled that Republicans could not implement the map until the 2013 legislative elections.

In 2012, an independent advisory commission with 10 members split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and a chairman who did not vote, was formed to create a new legislative map. The commission deadlocked along partisan lines after Democratic and Republican members each submitted their own maps.

In March, the legislature approved a revised map that put six incumbent lawmakers -- four Democrats and two Republicans -- into three districts. The map, which was approved, has 12 GOP majority districts and seven districts in which Democratic voters are the majority.

The coalition reviewed redistricting processes in counties across the state and selected locations throughout the nation. The goal was to make Nassau "a national model for good government and fair redistricting," according to the report.

The group recommended an amendment to the county charter to establish a clear timeline for each key event in the redistricting process. The charter also should be changed to ensure that minority voting rights are protected and that communities, particularly those with "shared socio-economic characteristics," are kept together as often as possible, the report said.

The report said future redistricting advisory commissions should:

Recommend a single map to the county legislature.

Have nine commissioners: three Republicans, three Democrats and three voters not affiliated with a party. Six of the commissioners -- two Republicans, two Democrats and two independents -- would be chosen by lottery from qualified applicants, and commissioners would choose three members.

Prohibit county employees, elected officials in office during the prior three years, paid professional political consultants, party officials or spouses and registered lobbyists from serving as commission members.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) will review the report "and if anything is actionable, she will certainly look into it," said Cristina Brennan, spokeswoman for legislative Republicans. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) described the most recent redistricting process as significantly flawed, and said "anything that's going to open up government to the people of Nassau, I'm for."

With Laura Figueroa

and Paul LaRocco

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