Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, reached a pragmatic...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, reached a pragmatic deal with the Republicans to revive the bipartisan commission. Credit: James Carbone

The scenario is now familiar.

An evenly bipartisan commission assigned to draw fair legislative districts deadlocks on a plan. The legislative majority takes over and draws the lines. The matter goes to court to determine the election maps to be in place for 10 years.

Just such a process is predictably unfolding in New York for November's congressional and state legislative seats. The experience may portend disappointment for good-government advocates regarding Long Island's two county legislatures.

Suffolk County got off on the wrong foot after Election Day. The defeated Democratic majority, noting the charter-mandated commission wasn't appointed in time, did a unique bit of midnight mapping and approved districts for the 2023 election before lapsing into the minority. Naturally, the new Republican majority resisted and fought it in court.

Republican Kevin McCaffrey, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature

Republican Kevin McCaffrey, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature Credit: James Escher

Now Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, prodded by GOP leadership and with less than two years left to his term-limited tenure, vetoed his party's midnight maps. Bellone reached a pragmatic deal to revive the bipartisan commission, which will hold public hearings and aim to submit a fair plan by August.

If only elected officials and their appointees can remember that goal.

Not yet. Democrats, some aligned with Bellone’s nemesis, county chairman Richard Schaffer, slammed Bellone's agreement as a sellout. The panel could still deadlock, the GOP could then draw the lines, and civil rights attorneys could challenge the result — especially if the final product omits four majority-minority districts as promised.

It does not need to go that way. The commission could, if it really wished, stun a lot of people and produce what's widely accepted to be an impartial plan. This is the place to try, anyway. Suffolk and Nassau are far more bipartisan — purple, if you will — than Democrat-controlled cities or ruby-red Republican exurbs. Why not give honest redistricting a shot before turning to new charter reforms that wouldn't take effect for another decade?

An independent process in Nassau could be a heavier lift. Republicans ran the table there in November, electing a GOP county executive and increasing their legislative seats. Imagine the positive precedent if Republicans put Nassau on the map as a model of reform on this one key issue. If a good-faith compromise is no longer possible, after all, neither is a truly functional system.

A new state law may prod change if conscientiously followed. Anti-gerrymandering standards for the size, compactness and balance of districts were enacted late last year in Albany, geared to local governments. That offers integrity a better chance in court.

But legal recourse, now sought by Republicans on a state level, doesn't equal real reform. Sound redistricting can only come from both parties showing boldness within the system they have. We'll see if that's even possible this time.

Brace for the usual — but root for the best.

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.