Editorial: Taking back Nassau elections

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Editorial: Taking back Nassau elections

 

Election Day is months away and we have yet to get to know many of the candidates for the Nassau County Legislature, but we are ready now to make our prediction that the Republicans will win the majority of seats.

No, we are not psychic. But we are able to understand given how well county Republicans gerrymandered Nassau County’s legislative districts in 2014 the GOP will win in 2021.

How well were the districts gerrymandered? The Republicans managed to give themselves more registered voters in 12 of the 19 legislative districts.

This was a neat trick since Republicans only held a 10-9 advantage at the time and Democrats had a 20,382 advantage among registered voters – 344,078 to 323,696.

It just goes to show what you can do to rig a legislative map if you don’t mind slicing and dicing communities across the county with districts that follow no rhyme or reason except to favor one political party.

To no one’s surprise, the Republicans then won a 12-7 advantage in the County Legislature.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats have no chance to win a majority in the Legislature in November.

Josh Lafazan, an independent running as a Democrat, won in a district with more registered Republicans in 2017, cutting the Republicans’ advantage in seats to 11-8.

And the Democrats’ advantage among registered voters has grown significantly in the past seven years.

As of Feb. 21, the number of registered Democrats had risen to 434,327, 40 percent of the electorate, while the number of registered Republican voters had basically stayed the same at 335,771, nearly a 100,000 margin with their share of registered voters dropping to 31 percent.

The Democrats could also win if they have fielded a particularly strong slate of candidates. That decision was pretty much controlled by Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Nassau County and New York State Democratic parties.

But despite holding both titles, Jacobs’ record in Nassau County has not been great, with Republicans holding the majority in the Legislature for nearly 20 years with Democratic slates often including recycled failed candidates.

Democrat Lauran Curran did win the county executive seat four years ago, but that was after the previous county executive, Republican Edward Mangano, was indicted on charges of political corruption and, in separate charges, so was Dean Skelos, the then Nassau-based Senate majority leader.

Still, if Curran does very well against her Republican 2021 opponent, Bruce Blakeman, a Town of Hempstead Republican challenger with a long string of election defeats, Democratic candidates running for the County Legislature could defy the odds and win a majority.

Democrats can also hope that one or more legislative districts has turned blue over the past seven years.

But the gerrymandered districts of 2014 do make winning the majority for Democrats a lot harder. The map is like giving Republicans four outs per inning and Democrats three in a baseball game.

The stakes for this year’s elections for the County Legislature are particularly important because the winning party is likely to decide on the new district lines after receiving the results of the once-in-a-decade census.

And that decision could determine the majority in the Legislature for the next 10 years.

In September, 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.

You know, like they do in democratic countries.

This is in keeping with what the state of New York approved in 2014 when it green-lighted an independent redistricting commission like those urged by good government groups and adopted by an increasing number of states.

But Nassau Republican spokesman Christopher Boyle said in a statement in September that legislators were too focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal crisis and problems from a recent storm to comment on it.

County Republicans have continued to say nothing since then despite the 2020 election, the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters seeking to overturn the presidential election and a widespread attack on voting rights by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country.

For instance, Republican-led legislatures in 14 states have enacted 24 laws giving them power over election administration in those states.

This, it should be remembered, is a threat to all of us since state governments control the administration of elections for the House, Senate and president.

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.”

For this to be true, one would have to believe that the elected officials whose political futures are at stake are going to develop a fairer playing field than people with no vested interest in the process.

If that’s the case, perhaps Major League Baseball can do without umpires and let the home team’s manager call balls and strikes.

Democrats in Congress have proposed sweeping legislation to combat Republican efforts to suppress voting in states across the country as well as reform obstacles like campaign finance laws to make elections fairer.

You don’t think that the rich and large corporations paying little or no taxes is a coincidence do you?

To no one’s surprise, the Democrats’ proposals have been opposed by Senate Republicans.

But Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia who has consistently frustrated Democrats by refusing to do away with the 60-vote requirement of the filibuster, has offered a compromise.

It eliminates much of what Democrats wanted, like the more ambitious campaign finance reforms, but among other things it bans partisan gerrymandering.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said no – as he has promised to do on all legislation supported by President Joe Biden for the next three-plus years.

But there is talk that Manchin’s plan might attract 10 Republicans needed to pass legislation like this in the Senate – or even five if the filibuster is reformed.

Or that Manchin and other senators would grow so frustrated with Republican obstructionism that they might do away with the filibuster altogether and pass whatever the Democrats wanted.

But rather than wait for the machinations from Washington to end, Nassau voters – Republicans, Democrats and independents – could take things into their own hands and announce that they will not vote for any candidate who does not support nonpartisan redistricting.

They could tell Republican candidates for the Nassau Legislature that no matter how long they served or what they may have accomplished previously nothing would be more important to them than creating a fair election system where the will of the people is heard.

Yes, this might result in our being wrong in our prediction on the election’s outcome. But a fair election system would be worth the price.

 

 

 

 

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