We normally wait for the final two weeks before Election Day to make our endorsements, but we are breaking with that tradition this year to announce our support this week not for a particular candidate but for an idea – democracy.
By that we mean a system in which each citizen’s vote counts equally and the outcome of a free and fair election should be recognized, respected and, if need be, defended.
The question of whether a candidate believes in free and fair elections can easily be determined by the answer to a single question: Did Joe Biden win the presidency in a free and fair election?
That answer has already been confirmed by state election officials across the country and in more than 60 court cases presided over by judges appointed by every president since George Herbert Walker Bush.
If a candidate is unwilling to answer that question with a yes, he or she lacks a sufficient ability to comprehend facts or is unwilling to fulfill his or her oath of office. You know, the part about supporting the Constitution of the United States.
There may be many things that go into a voter’s decision on who to support, but an inability or unwillingness to support the Constitution should disqualify a candidate for any office – town council, County Legislature, county executive and, especially, district attorney.
The connection between Election Day and whether each Nassau County citizen’s vote will count equally is slightly more complicated but still very clear.
As of Election Day, the answer is now based on how legislative districts were drawn in 2014 following the 2010 census. Republican legislators used their 10-9 advantage at the time to vote along party lines to create 12 legislative districts with more registered Republicans than Democrats. Even though Democrats held a 20,832 advantage in registered voters, 344,078 to 323,696. The redistricting plan was signed into law by then County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican.
This more or less ensured minority rule for the next decade and that Republican voters would count more than Democratic voters.
Democrats in Congress are now seeking to bar this kind of gerrymandering by putting the power to change districts into the hands of nonpartisan groups rather than state legislatures.
Many state legislatures, including New York’s, have moved to nonpartisan commissions. But Republican-controlled legislatures have instead begun using technology to weaponize the redistricting process as part of a campaign to suppress the vote and, in some cases, subvert the vote. All based on the Big Lie that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump.
In Texas, a proposed Republican reworking of House districts would reduce the state’s 12 competitive districts to one.
This has created a problem for New York Democrats: Follow the nonpartisan commission and perhaps lose the House majority or use a loophole to gerrymander the House districts in a way that would eliminate five Republican house districts.
Politics vs. principle. Place your bets now.
Unfortunately, the likely outcome – gerrymandering New York’s House districts – would undermine efforts to make redistricting nonpartisan by supporting the argument that everyone does it. That still shouldn’t deter Nassau County voters from doing the right thing.
In Nassau County, the map created by Republicans has given them control of the Legislature for 10 years with only the election of Josh Lafazan, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, reducing the GOP’s 12-7 advantage to 11-8.
During this time, the number of registered Democrats in Nassau County has risen to 434,327, 40 percent of the electorate, while the number of registered Republican voters has basically stayed the same at 335,771, or 31 percent. That now gives Democrats nearly 100,000 more registered voters. Most of the rest of the electorate lists no party affiliation.
The latest census figures also show that 42 percent of the county’s population is composed of minorities while only two legislators – 11 percent – are members of minorities.
More than a year ago, 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 was intended to create a fair and representative distribution of legislators. Nassau Republicans declined to comment then. And now Legislature Minority Leader Kevan Abraham recently said in a recent Blank Slate Media town hall on redistricting he has yet to get a response from Republican Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello.
If the Democrats win a legislative majority, Abrahams said he will go ahead with his nonpartisan redistricting plan and expects it would consider geographic continuity, the Democratic advantage in party registration and minority representation as part of its goals.
But we have yet to hear what the Republicans intend to do. This raises several important questions for Republicans running for the County Legislature.
With Democrats holding a nearly 100,000 advantage in registered voters will that be reflected in the new districts? Will the districts be made up of recognizable communities – unlike the current map in which legislators stretch from the Suffolk border to Roslyn in the middle? What about minority representation in an increasingly diverse county?
Nicolello has cited efforts to create minority representation in the current mess of a map. He does have a point given Nassau’s status as one of the most segregated counties in America – something in which past county legislatures had a hand.
And as Abrahams noted in the recent town hall, control of the County Legislature can determine where and when public projects such as roads and bridges are built. Undoing that segregation should be a goal of the next Legislature in changing legislative district lines.
Given the advantage they received by gerrymandering districts in 2014, Nassau Republican legislators will likely win the most districts in the 2021 election. But they will not have the ability to create a map as one-sided as the one drawn in 2014 if Laura Curran, a Democrat, wins re-election.
The legislative map is approved as a county law that requires the county executive’s signature. Curran would likely veto any map that looked like the map drawn in 2014 – especially with the large changes in party registration and demographics.
GOP county executive candidate Bruce Blakeman, who served as the county GOP’s liaison to Trump’s campaign, has yet to say what he would do if he wins and Republicans retain control in the County Legislature. But unless we hear otherwise, we should expect more of the same.
Curran, Blakeman and all the candidates for the County Legislature should be asked whether they want a bipartisan commission to change legislative district lines. And if not, how they would redraw them.
Many factors should be considered in casting a vote. None is more important than creating districts that reflect Nassau’s electorate.