By Lauren Feldman
On Jan. 17 the Nassau County Legislature Rules Committee held their 14th term meeting agenda, during which they evaluated two proposed maps for the redistricting of Nassau County. This is a meeting which occurs every ten years following new citizen data collection via the census. A Temporary Districting Advisory Commission (TDAC) assisted both the Democratic and Republican parties with crafting proposals to evaluate Nassau’s 19 Legislative districts for reapportionment: the former presenting Motion 33, and the latter Motion 34.
As noted by Communications Director Danny Schrafel, this meeting was a procedural step and does not indicate final approval; that will come from the full Nassau County Legislature at a later date not yet determined. As well, neither map was required to be accepted wholly or in part by the Rules Committee.
The Democrats And Motion 33:
First to present was the Democratic Committee with Motion 33. The committee proposal, presented by David Mejias, cited Daniel B. Magleby, PhD and Megan Gall, PhD, GISP, who were hired to perform research, analyze the current map, and propose a new alternate map. As clarified by the Democratic presentation, “Both [individuals] are independent, and both testified that they have never been hired by a partisan organization in the past.”
Mejias proposed a map which includes five performing majority-minority districts and an Asian influence district, for the first time in the county. All five majority-minority districts have a black and Latino population in excess of 50 percent – a requirement of the Federal and New York State Voting Rights Acts – the Asian influence district also exceeds 40 percent, which complies with another requirement.
Both the 2013 map, as well as any similarly adopted map, violates the Federal and State Voting Rights Acts, as well as the Municipal Home Rule Law. It was important to the comittee, in the drawing of this new map, to ensure that it would not deny voters of color the equal opportunity to participate and elect candidates of their choice, in keeping with the law.
The Democrat proposition therefore demands a clean slate, and an overhaul of the 2013 map.
The Republicans And Motion 34:
Following was the Republican Committee with Motion 34. Lisa Perillo, presenting on behalf of the committee, cited the mission of the TDAC as complying with the Municipal Home Rule Law, as well as both Federal and State Voting Rights Acts. They also affirmed that the Republican proposal adheres to these laws.
Equal population is crucial to redistricting. “The goal of redistricting,” the committee stated, “Is ultimately to give every person’s vote the same weight.” With that in mind, the Republican plan aimed to achieve as equal a distribution of population as possible across districts, and proposed a layout in which deviation was only 0.098 percent. The maximum deviation allowed across districts is 5.0 percent.
The layout proposed by Perillo includes a voting-age, non-Hispanic African American district, for the first time in the county. The plan also includes three black-Hispanic coalition districts. The plan promises both contiguous districts, as well as districts which are more compact than in the existing map. It also prioritized maintaining the cores of each district, which provide areas of common ground for residents. According to the committee, around 91 percent of the cores of each district are maintained within the Republican proposal, which does not mirror the Democrats’ proposal for sweeping change.
Public Opinion And Commentary:
Following the proposals was prepared commentary from various members of the Nassau community. Redistricting, as a process which reoccurs every 10 years, relies on public involvement and voices from Nassau districts.
Commonly expressed was concern about population growth resulting in the fracturing of towns. One community member urged the Legislature that “Maps should be drawn with communities of cohesion in mind. Lines should be drawn in pursuit of keeping communities together.” The Republican-presented map in particular struck a chord with many members of the community, who fear the implications of proposed changes.
While the committee claims to keep the cores of each district the same, community members noted that there was an unequal amount of redistribution occurring more intensely in majority-minority areas. Several speakers came forward to dispute the fracturing of black and brown communities, which would put voters of color at a disadvantage both in voting rights, as well as the ability to select their representatives.
This was especially frustrating for community members of color at the meeting. One of whom spoke up in disbelief over the proposal, “Why is it that predominantly black and brown communities have to come and beg for something that should just be ours?” She implored the Rules Committee to consider the impact each proposal would have on these communities. “Make sure that Nassau County is an example. You have that power.”
Following the meeting, Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D) released the following statement: “The Republican redistricting commission proposal is a clear example of a racial gerrymander that violates multiple aspects of local, state, and federal law. Nassau County residents deserve better. Now the Legislative Republicans have an opportunity to address the illegal aspects presented by their Temporary Districting Advisory Commission members that would dilute the votes of our minority communities for another 10 years and needlessly expose taxpayers to the risk of wasteful, costly litigation.”
The Final Ruling:
The Republican motion held a majority approval of 4:3 in favor, and the Democrat motion held a majority approval of 7:0 in favor, and so the Committee ruled to pass along both propositions to the Legislature for further review. A future meeting will determine which map – if either – will take effect in whole or part. The proposed maps, as well as the existing map, are available on the Legislature’s website at https://www.nassaucountyny.gov/5455/Redistricting for those interested in a more close-up look at each district.