The Republican-dominated Nassau County Legislature has put itself at a hazardous crossroads while drawing its new district lines for the next 10 years. Lawmakers must decide on a new map for the 19-member body to use in this year's elections, after its bipartisan advisory commission failed to agree on and propose a single plan.
As things stand now in Mineola, the county’s GOP legislative majority had better worry that it will face the same type of legal debacle that rightly befell the state’s two-chamber Democratic majority in Albany last year when it overreached in manipulating State Senate and congressional lines. After a special bipartisan panel also failed to agree on maps in 2022, majority Democrats at the Capitol wrote lines that ham-handedly stood to earn their party several seats on Election Day. The courts blew up that plan citing constitutional guidelines enacted in 2014. A special master drastically rewrote those maps to better advantage Republicans.
Nassau faces a repeat of that fiasco, but with party roles reversed. The “out” party Democrats on Nassau’s advisory commission shout that the whole mapping-proposal process was skewed and flawed — just as the state process proved to be.
The county map is subject to anti-gerrymandering standards new to this cycle. A 2021 Municipal Home Rule Law says: “Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or favor or disfavor incumbents or other candidates or parties.”
In recent weeks, Republicans have argued that the GOP proposal correctly preserves the “cores” of districts from their 2013 map. Yet the Democrats quote one legal scholar saying that simply duplicating gerrymanders of the past amounts to “gerry-laundering.” Impartial judges might well agree.
The Temporary Districting Advisory Commission's Democratic members, led by ex-Legis. David Mejias, have other objections that any outside reviewer would find hard to ignore. For one, a type of statistical measure of randomly drawn maps, called an “ensemble analysis,” which was deemed valid in the 2022 state case, indicates strong partisan bias in the majority plan. Several school districts and villages would be “cracked” and communities of interest “packed” in the Republican map. The Democrats make a good argument that five “majority-minority” districts rather than the GOP’s four might stand up better in court.
Other inadequacies in the GOP mapping: Hempstead Village would remain sliced into two districts, Freeport into three, the Five Towns cracked across four. Districts 3 and 14 are not internally crossable, as is standard, because of a parkway or other physical barriers. And, Democrats propose that Asian Americans have an “influence” district where they represent a solid 40% of the vote.
The Nassau Legislature needs to voluntarily correct these obvious flaws. It must do it quickly, in time for this year’s primaries. If not, another dramatic court-imposed solution would be in order. What’s good for one majority ought to be good for another.
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