Nassau County Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and League of Women Voters Vice President Michele C. Lamberti expressed the need for a fair and balanced redistricting process in a virtual forum hosted by Blank Slate Media last week.
The redistricting process occurs across the country every 10 years following the release of U.S. census data. Prior to the data being released this year, Abrahams led the charge in trying to have the County Legislature adopt an independent redistricting committee to keep a majority of the power from one party.
As of now, redistricting is delegated to an 11-member board made up of five voting members from each party, with the last member being a nonvoting chairperson picked by the county executive. Republicans currently hold an 11-8 majority in the County Legislature. The committee, Abrahams said, would preserve the boundaries of cities, towns and incorporated villages.
“I feel it’s most prudent that we take it out of the hands of politicians and we give an opportunity to the public to have a say in the process where they would draw the lines and there would be less likelihoods of gerrymandering or redistricting to favor a particular party,” he said.
During the forum, Abrahams once again touted the importance of establishing a committee and having people understand that redistricting is of the utmost importance.
“In order for us to move forward, we must have an independent process that is truly reflective of the people of Nassau County,” Abrahams said. “I think from that standpoint, that was embedded in our proposal, which we’ve been leading the fight in terms of redistricting.”
In 2013, the Republican majority’s proposed district map was approved by a 10-9 vote. Lamberti said when looking at redistricting, party affiliation should not be a driving force in creating district lines. With updated census data showing new trends throughout the county, she said, it is important to focus on the communities themselves when talking about drawing new district lines.
In the latest census, people of color represent 44 percent of Nassau County,” Lamberti said. “Our demographics are really changing … I think we should be looking at communities as the building blocks of districts.”
A supermajority of the state Legislature is able to override the state’s redistricting commission designed to make New York’s election nonpartisan. With ripple effects in various states potentially leading to a new Speaker of the House, Lamberti said, “just because other states are doing it, doesn’t mean we should.”
Lamberti, on behalf of the league, said her colleagues were not pleased with how the process has played out on a state level so far, but happy to see the state’s redistricting commission gathering public input during pre-hearings.
“This is definitely not how we expected the commission to function,” Lamberti said. “I don’t think voters expected it to function this way and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of New Yorkers.”
Abrahams said the state Legislature may have its own prerogative in terms of deciding what to do, but he and his colleagues want to focus on how to best serve Nassau County. Abrahams said he believes Nassau could become less politicized and said lines should be drawn based on census trends, likeness of the community, interests of the community, and to create a process that is fair and balanced.
“I think most people are not cognizant on why it is so important not to give a one-party rule structure,” Abrahams said. “If any party is able to assume 13 seats they pretty much can control bonding, they can override vetoes of the county executive.”
Abrahams said if one party is in control of the bonding and measures for various road and infrastructure projects, there is fair criticism to be made that the other legislative districts will not get much of a say in the approval of the capital bond plan. Abrahams said he does not want to see either party gain too much power from the standpoint of having a fair and balanced process.
To view the entire interview visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q29lb6OzhbU.