The Nassau County Republicans seem determined to commit the same act of arrogance as the state Legislature Democrats did in their fatal attempt at gerrymandering. But then again, Republicans have proved themselves time and time again to be impervious to shame or hypocrisy.
But the issues raised by the Democrats at the Nov. 16 public hearing of the Temporary District Advisory Commission on the Nassau County’s proposed redistricting plan to draw the lines for its 19 legislative districts – and in the dozens of public comments including by civil rights and voting rights activists and attorneys – became manifestly clear.
The Democrats insist that based on demographic changes – and the Voting Rights Law and the state’s own Voting Rights Law – there should be five “majority minority” districts where minorities have the ability to elect a representative of their own choosing.
Republicans are proposing to keep four of the 19 districts. (The minority population has seen the greatest growth in Nassau County in the decade, but while “white-only” are 57.2% of the population, they control 79% of districts).
The Republican mapmaker, David Schaeffer of Skyline Consulting, (hired a week before and kept secret from the Democrats) argued that the districts he drew met the criteria because they were “compact and contiguous” – an absurdity easily seen, even with the “blank” maps provided so that no one could see exactly where their streets would fall in which districts when they contort and in some cases cross multiple towns.
Democratic Commissioner Michael Pernick argued, “It’s black and white in law,” to which Schaeffer said, “I’m not talking about law.” He also said that he did not bother to incorporate the public comments from the eight previous public hearings, so what were they for?
Chairman Francis X. Moroney (appointed by County Executive Bruce Blakeman) made feeble – even false – arguments to justify the Republican map, the chief one being that their proposal kept intact the “cores” – that is, the 2013 districts (which Democrats argue were illegal when the map was gerrymandered then, and that the new map only exacerbates it), and that the Democrats’ alternative start from scratch. Indeed, since the 2013 map, the state made partisan gerrymandering explicitly illegal.
The Republicans also insist that they adhere closest to the “one-person, one-vote” mandate that means that districts have to be within 5% population size of each other. But as the mapmaking experts have demonstrated, there are many ways to make the districts come out even. They are using this as an excuse to quite literally crack, stack and pack districts to get the voting outcome they want (the definition of partisan and racial gerrymandering).
And it is not even true to claim the new Republican map is faithful to the “cores,” since too many districts (communities) are split in three, four, five parts, without any regard to longstanding “communities of interest.”
In answer to the Democrats’ charge that the Republican map defies the state’s John Lewis Voting Rights law, the Republican mapmaker Schaeffer actually said, “We would wait to see what happens. I don’t know how to apply the law…The starting point of the map is irrelevant” and “the map from 10 years ago is legal until somebody finds it is not legal.”
“Everyone here has a stake in what happens,” Pernick asserted. It is about equity, about undoing decades of institutional racism in Nassau County, America’s first suburb…We are here to insure people in these communities discriminated against all these years have the representation to undo [the harm]. We cannot ignore the fact of severe segregation, discrimination in Nassau County (is) the result of gerrymandered maps on the county and state level. The [census] data show there should be five majority/minority districts and there are only three. That means you have 3/5ths of the representation you deserve. Does that sound familiar? Is it right?” he said.
The Republican proposal, Pernick declared, is “racially discriminatory, full stop; violates federal Voting Rights Act, the John Lewis Act of New York, unlawfully dilutes the black and Latino vote, violates the Equal Protection clause, and is an unlawful racial gerrymander.”
For example, it “packs” District 1 (that is, concentrating minority voters into one district so their voice is effectively negated) and “cracks Nassau’s largest Asian community, placing Asian communities in New Hyde Park into District 9, and Asian communities in North New Hyde Park, Manhasset Hills and Herricks into District 10. In contrast, the Democrats’ proposed redistricting plan unifies Nassau’s largest Asian community into a single influence district.
The Republican proposal also violates the requirements for creating districts that are as compact and as contiguous as possible. For example, it contorts District 14 into a “bizarre and highly irregular shape, crossing into all three towns. It is impossible to drive through District 14 without crossing into other districts,” according to the Power Point presentation at the Nov. 16 public meeting.
Similarly, District 2 has a “bizarre and highly irregular shape that crosses into all three towns; it “only connects New Cassel to Uniondale with a tiny three-block chuck of land in Salisbury “intentionally splitting an otherwise whole community (Salisbury).”
The Republican proposal for District 3 is so bizarrely constructed that “no roads connect this district. The only way to travel from one part of the district to another is to cross a creek (Hook Creek), a park (north Woodmere Park) and a golf course (North Woodmere Golf Course).”
District 9, as proposed by the Republicans, “is a bizarrely shaped district that slices through Searingtown and Roslyn Heights to connect Plandome and Munsey Park to communities in Williston Park, East Williston and Mineola,” the Democrats said.