Editorial: Let’s insist on fair elections, sensible districts in Nassau

The Island Now

Three weeks ago, Nassau Democratic legislators proposed the creation of a redistricting commission to determine legislative boundaries after the completion of the 2020 census.

Democrats said the proposal, which included a timeline in which the process would take place and the appointment of a special master in case the commission missed its deadlines, was intended to create a fair and representative distribution of legislators.

The Republican response was less than enthusiastic.

“It is difficult to understand why in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal crisis, and with thousands of residents still without power after the recent storm, the minority chooses to focus their energy on changing the county’s redistricting process.” Republican spokesman Christopher Boyle said in a statement.


Despite the hardships, Republicans were still able to join “Blue Ribbon” campaigns to encourage homes and businesses to “show their support for the men and women of law enforcement.”

The Republican legislators explained that the Nassau County Police Department and thousands of NYPD officers living on Long Island continue to battle anti-police sentiment.

As we said last week, the hurt feelings of the Bravest were apparently more important to Republican legislators than the fear felt by Blacks across the country watching unarmed Black men being shot, beaten and in the case of George Floyd having a white policeman place his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he was dead. Blacks Lives Matter supporters are now calling for approval of election as well as policing reforms.

The Republican legislators also cited calls to defund the police. Except there have been no calls to defund the police in Nassau County, raising the question of which Legislature the Nassau Republicans think they are representing.

And do the Republicans really need someone to explain to them the importance of free and fair elections in 2020 amid reports of Russian meddling in 2016 and 2020, President Donald Trump’s efforts to extort the president of Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the president’s campaign against mailed-in ballots and his claims that the coming election is rigged – unless he wins?

There is also an obvious answer to the timing of the Nassau Democrats’ proposal – the last redistricting of county legislative districts.

In April 2011, less than a month after the release of the 2010 census figures, Nassau Republicans unveiled a proposal that would move about 572,000 residents – 44 percent of the county total – to new districts, put four incumbent Democrats into two districts and split up recognizable communities.

The plan was drawn up by county Attorney John Ciampoli, who was described by The New York Times as “long active in state Republican election and districting issues and an associate of then-state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos,” who represented a Nassau district.

At the time, Republicans held an 11-8 advantage in the Nassau County Legislature despite Democrats having a 20,382 advantage among registered voters – 344,078 to 323,696.

Two years later, after lawsuits and a deadlocked redistricting commission, Republicans then holding a 10-9 advantage voted along party lines for Ciampoli’s plan after some tweaking by the redistricting commission.

This included splitting Roslyn into four legislative districts rather than splitting Great Neck in two as originally proposed.

More importantly, the plan placed more Republican voters than Democratic voters into 12 of the 19 legislative districts, even though the Democrats’ advantage in registered voters in Nassau had increased from 20,382 to 37,732.

This is what is known as gerrymandering, a centuries-old technique that has been weaponized by new technology.

Gerrymandering allows legislators to pick their voters rather than voters picking their legislators and has been blamed for the polarization of Congress and state legislatures across the country.

By creating safe districts for one party, the real election contests are the primaries where often challengers take more extreme positions to unseat incumbents.

The latest example is Marjorie Taylor Greene, a promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents believe Trump is battling a cabal of “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan, practice cannibalism and traffic children for sex.

Greene, who also made a number of racist remarks on video, won a Republican primary runoff in Georgia’s overwhelmingly Republican 14th Congressional District. She is expected to win in the general election.

(Trump hailed Greene as a “future Republican Star,” tweeting that she is “strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”)

Gerrymandering is by no means a strictly Republican practice. Democratic majorities across the country have done the same.

In recent years, both Republicans and Democrats coast to coast have acknowledged the damage caused by this practice and moved to independent redistricting commissions.

This includes New York State.  The redistricting commission was approved by the Legislature in two consecutive sessions as required for passage at a time when Republicans controlled the state Senate and Democrats the Assembly. Gov. Andrew Cuomo then signed the legislation into law. The redistricting commission will decide the boundaries of congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts starting in 2023.

But not Nassau County.

When asked several years ago about a redistricting commission, Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said: “It would be as political when you have a nonpartisan commission redrawing the lines as it is now.”

You really need to believe in the tooth fairy to buy into the idea that putting the county’s redistricting authority in the hands of legislators whose political future depends on those decisions is the best system.

Especially after Nassau Republicans used a hired gun in 2013 to employ the latest techniques to give Republicans a 12-7 advantage in legislative districts despite fewer registered voters than Democrats. That is the reason legislative districts show no regard for communities.

It is even harder to believe after Democratic county legislators proposed a commission made up three members picked by the leader of the Legislature’s majority, three picked by the minority leader and three agreed upon by both sides.

The commission would be tasked with creating 19 geographically compact, contiguous districts that preserved boundaries of cities, towns and villages.

But Republicans have resisted before for an obvious reason – changes in the party affiliation of registered voters in Nassau.

Republicans actually held a 117,000-voter registration advantage in 1990. That advantage declined to 94,000 in 2000 before Democrats took a 20,000 lead in 2011. Democrats now have a 78,000 advantage.

There are many reasons for this. Changes in the country’s demographics. Changes in the politics of the Republicans and Democrats both nationally and locally. And more recently Republican corruption scandals in Nassau County.

Republicans could keep their majority over the next decade in one of two ways.

They could pick better candidates with better ideas than Democrats. Or they could cheat by rigging the districts and depriving voters, including many minorities, of equal representation.

Let’s not give them Option B.

Republican legislators should be told that they will lose their seats if they do not approve an independent redistricting commission to ensure fair elections in Nassau.




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