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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Editorial
We're the grass in the redistricting field

There are 10 elephants and nine donkeys in a field. Because there are more elephants than donkeys, we’ll put the elephants in charge and give them a single task: spread all 19 animals out around the field in such a way that each elephant and each donkey gets roughly the same amount of grass to eat. And we’ll make two safe predictions: The elephants’ arrangement will work out better for them than it will for the donkeys, and the grass will get trampled.

We have to change the system by which elected officials choose which residents get to vote for them in Nassau County’s 19 legislative districts. The current redistricting method does just that, putting the majority party — the Republicans, who have a 10-9 advantage — in charge of deciding what the new legislative districts’ boundaries will be after the decennial census, giving them the power to contort district shapes to maximize self-preservation. In our view, that is antithetical to the “people as sovereign” concept of American democracy.

Every 10 years the census reveals population shifts, so, by law, county legislative district lines must be redrawn to keep each district about equal in population. For years, every politician we’ve asked about this process has agreed that an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission ought to redraw the district maps. Every one has promised to support legislation to take the remapping away from the incumbents. What has happened to those promises?

Instead of a nonpartisan group, a politically appointed redistricting advisory commission of five Republicans and five Democrats was formed last year to recommend new districts that conform with the law by having roughly equal numbers of residents.

Instead of compromising to produce one balanced plan that would be faithful to the letter and spirit of the law, Republicans and Democrats each offered their own scheme. The Republicans issued a tortured, party-protecting, gerrymandered new map and the Democrats designed one that looks pretty much like the flawed current map, with just enough changes to accommodate population shifts and one-person-one-vote compliance.

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