Dec 09, 2011
By George Sava
Every ten years our nation goes through a Federal Census. As a result of the Census’ findings, state legislative and congressional district boundaries are redrawn to reflect shifting and growing populations. For too long, this redistricting process has been controlled by the political party in power, i.e. the party holding the majority of legislative seats. This is known as partisan redistricting.
The concern with partisan redistricting is that politicians will create districts not for the betterment of citizens but rather to maintain political power by creating safe incumbent districts. The end result is the disenfranchisement of voters.
In an effort to create fair minded districts, many states have established non-partisan commissions to create new districts lines. Unfortunately, New York has been somewhat reticent to embrace this practice. Although many politicians have talked a good game and have even signed pledges in support of non-partisan redistricting, when push came to shove the political speeches and promises were forgotten and the voters were left with business as usual.
Fortunately, many elected officials in New York have determined that non-partisan redistricting is essential in a democracy. Governor Cuomo, in order to prevent partisan gerrymandering, has called for an independent commission to be established to carry out redistricting at the state level. Suffolk County was one of the first if not the first county in New York to initiate the procedures for non-partisan reapportionment of its legislative districts.
Sadly this does not seem to be the prevailing wisdom in Nassau County. Most of you are well aware of the recent legal battle involving new legislative lines for Nassau County. Shortly before the 2011 election, the Nassau County Republican Majority passed a plan for new legislative district lines and attempted to initiate the redistricting prior to the 2011 election. The plan called for wholesale changes throughout the county which included breaking The Five Towns into two separate legislative districts. In response, the Democratic Party accused the Republican majority of gerrymandering and the legal battle began. The end result was a great deal of voter confusion leading up to Election Day.
Although it is not completely clear how much money was spent in legal fees in the attempt to alter legislative lines, I believe it is fair to say that it was not a negligible amount. In the end the legal ruling was that legislative redistricting cannot take place prior to the recent election. In the New Year, however, I believe it is safe to say that Republican majority will once again pass the same redistricting plan set forth prior to this year’s election.
In my review of the proposed plan, I cannot help but question the validity of the redistricting plan and the motives of the drafters. I understand the old adage “to the victors go the spoils,” but our nation was founded on the belief that the voice of the people must be heard and not silenced. Thus, any form of gerrymandering is a threat to democracy. The League of Women Voters has said “[D]emocracy is at risk when partisan gerrymandering ensures that elections are over before the people vote.”
Consequently, no matter which party eventually holds the majority, a spoils system cannot stand. Our elected officials in Nassau County must accept non-partisan redistricting and we as voters must demand it.
Filed Under: George Sava
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