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Binary plans a map to nowhere

The redistricting proposal goes to the State Legislature,

The redistricting proposal goes to the State Legislature, which still gets final say over the details. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Former Nassau Sen. Jack Martins, the Republican vice chairman of the fledgling Independent Redistricting Commission, raised a salient point of dissent on Wednesday when the 10-member panel voted to put its proposed congressional and state legislative district maps before the public to hear feedback.

Martins and his GOP colleagues on the evenly divided commission objected to the fact that it issued dual sets of maps for the House of Representatives and the New York Assembly and Senate. That means they presented clashing plans, drafted separately by the commission’s GOP members on one side and Democrats on the other.

One set of maps would have been far better.

In theory, the commission, created by a constitutional amendment that took effect in 2014 is supposed to be free of party manipulation, tasked to draw districts that jibe with common sense, equal representation, community interests, and the borders of counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts.

The explanation from Democrats who hold an enormous advantage in this process is that the pandemic and other snags rendered unified maps in time for this week's deadline too difficult to achieve. That's hard to accept.

So the public needs to get involved. The process begins in earnest next month, ending on Long Island with hearings at Nassau Community College Nov. 22, and Stony Brook University on Nov. 23.

Once detailed responses are received, the Democratic chairman David Imamura vows every effort to unify the panel behind a single plan. That proposal then goes to the State Legislature, which gets final say over the details.

Facts on the political ground have changed since the powers that were in Albany drew the current lines a decade ago. Then the Republicans controlled the State Senate, crafted its lines, but had little say in the congressional map, which wound up being decided in federal court. This year both legislative houses are in the grip of the Democrats, who can break the governor's veto with two-thirds majorities.

Add to that the pressure on state Democrats to help their national party retain control of the House — by minimizing GOP chances to retain or win New York seats.

The state next year loses one of its 27 seats by reapportionment. Democratic partisans would love to turn their current 19-8 advantage in the delegation into a 23-3 advantage, just as red states redistrict aggressively for their purposes.

With New York's Republican Party on life support, its representatives are more likely to be heard on this evenly divided commission than in the legislature.

The commission must produce a fair, single set of maps. If they don't, top Democrats will have more of an excuse if they choose to nullify the commission's work.

If commission members don't defer to fairness, this new "independent" process will be rendered a sham without a fight.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.