Editorial: Return one person, one vote to Nassau County

Editorial:  Return one person, one vote to Nassau County

In November 2015, Democratic candidates for the 19 county Legislature seats received about 47 percent of the vote.

Based on just the numbers, one might expect that the Democrats would have won nine of the 19 seats — 47 percent.

But Democrats only won seven seats — about 37 percent — and Republicans won 12 seats and a majority that they still enjoy.

This was no coincidence. In fact, it was by design.

County Republicans had, in effect, rigged the 2015 election by redrawing the map for county Legislature seats in 2013 in a 10-9 vote along party lines in a way that gave Republicans 12 majority districts and Democrats seven districts in which they are the majority.

This, in a county in which registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by 36,000 people.

The revision of legislative maps to give one party the advantage over another is known as gerrymandering and its use in Nassau County will in all probability result in a 12-7 advantage for Republicans after this year’s elections — even with the county’s finances remaining under state supervision, the county assessment system a disaster, the Republican county executive under indictment for political corruption and the deputy county executive, according to his own testimony, under investigation by the FBI.

So much for one person, one vote.

Further evidence of this can be seen in district lines that follow no rational contours and leave voters perplexed by who represents them. Roslyn, for instance, is represented by four county legislators, one of whose districts stretches all the way to Hicksville. Representing those Roslyn constituents is asking a lot from a part-time public official.

Gerrymandering is not new. It has been used since this country’s founding by Republicans and Democrats and their predecessors to aid one party over another.

But the use of computers and sophisticated algorithms has turned what was once an art into a dark science in which legislators pick their voters, rather than letting voters pick their legislators.

The practice is by no means limited to Nassau County.

In fact, gerrymandering has created voting districts for Congress and state legislatures across the country in which incumbents have much more to fear from a primary challenge than the general election, helping to foster the extreme partisanship seen in Congress and many statehouses.

Last week, this hyperpartisan process was challenged in a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court by Wisconsin plaintiffs challenging gerrymandering there that resulted in Republican candidates winning 60 percent of the state Assembly’s seats with just 48 percent of the vote.

The Supreme Court’s decision could change politics in this country. Or it could change nothing.

But reform need not rely on the Supreme Court.

As we have pointed out before, the New York State Legislature, which is nobody’s idea of a paragon of good government practices, actually approved a constitutional amendment to establish new redistricting procedures for state and federal seats beginning in 2020.

In doing so, the Legislature was required to vote in favor of the amendment in two successive legislatures in 2012 and 2013 to qualify it for final approval in a statewide referendum. The amendment became law, receiving 57 percent of the public votes.

In 2014, after Nassau County Republicans redraw the district lines to guarantee their majority for the rest of the decade, good government and watchdog groups called on Nassau County to overhaul the process for redrawing electoral lines to limit gerrymandering and make Nassau “a national model for good government.”

We don’t think it’s a coincidence that county Republicans refused to accept the proposed reforms and the county became a model for corruption rather than good government.

But Nassau County voters do not need to accept a decision that allows politicians to keep themselves and their party in power by means both unfair and undemocratic.

Candidates now running for the 19 legislative seats will answer questions on a wide number of topics at a variety of forums in the weeks leading up to election.

We suggest the first question asked at all these events be: Will you support the creation of an independent commission to determine the district lines of the county Legislature after the next census?

Candidates can talk all they want about honest government and fair elections, but if they are unwilling to support a nonpartisan method of drawing district lines you should have no reason to believe anything they say about eliminating the culture of corruption.

Make your vote really count.

If a candidate won’t support fair elections, don’t support that candidate.

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