In November, when voters head to the polls, they may see some changes on the ballot. On Jan. 1, new State Assembly and Senate districts take effect, along with new congressional districts. In six weeks we’ll be electing the representatives of those new districts. Those lines have been drawn and finalized, and will be in place for the next decade.
But there will be changes in next November’s county and town election, too. Nassau County legislators have yet to decide how the county’s 19 legislative districts will look beginning Jan. 1, 2014. The county must redraw its maps to ensure that each district is roughly equal in population, based on 2010 census results.
Redistricting can be, and usually is, a highly contentious, partisan issue. Just think back to last year, when the County Legislature’s Republican majority tried to implement new maps in time for the 2011 election, only to be challenged in court by their Democratic counterparts. Accusations flew back and forth, and eventually the courts sided with the Democrats.
Those initial maps are off the table, and the county is starting from scratch. Legislators want to hear what members of the public think about how the districts should look for the next decade. To that end, the Temporary Districting Advisory Commission, a group appointed to develop suggested maps, is hosting a series of public forums throughout the county.
Public input is a key part of the process. It should be voters, not elected officials trying to preserve their seats, who have the most say in how the legislative district lines are redrawn. Redistricting is supposed to be an opportunity to empower the electorate. It is designed to follow the one-person-one-vote principle enshrined in the Constitution. Its purpose is not to protect incumbents by drawing lines that favor one party over another, often splitting communities, neighborhoods or even streets to better someone’s chance of re-election.