Conservative legislators in Nassau County appear to want to hold onto their power at all costs, even if it means disenfranchising Blacks and Latinos. And it looks like they might accomplish their goal.
On Tuesday, Nassau County Republicans shoved through a plan to redistrict much of the county. Passing in a 10-to-8 vote in the Nassau County Legislature is a map that many in the African-American community believe will reduce the collective voting strength of Blacks and Latinos, leaving them with representatives who do not have their best interests at heart. Legislator Denise Ford was the only Republican to vote against the redistricting plan.
The new map could take effect before the next elections this November if it stands up to court review. Both Democrats and Republicans will argue their respective cases in front of State Supreme Court Judge Steven Jaeger in Mineola on Thursday.
So far, the courts have allowed the measure to proceed. Last week, Associate Justice Joseph Covello of the Second Department in Mineola stayed a temporary restraining order that barred the GOP-dominated Nassau Legislature from voting on a new redistricting map. If the courts continue to allow the plan to go forward, 572,000 residents would move into new districts throughout the county–almost half of the entire population of Nassau County. The plan would also move four incumbent Democratic legislators into two districts. In other words, it would cement for at least the next decade conservative rule in Nassau County. NAACP New York State Chair of Civic Engagement Scottie Co- ads broke it down for the AmNews.
“Out of the 19 districts, we have three from the original map that are minority districts,” said Coads. “What the current administration has done is, they redraw the map to accommodate themselves to rush this through for a November election. They claim they found a loophole in the charter that tells them they are al- lowed to redraw the lines six months after getting the Census report. [But] the charter states that they can describe what they’d like to do–not redraw a map.”
Under the new redistricting plan, Malverne and the village of Cedarhurst would move into the 7th District and all of West Hempstead would move into Muscarella.
Republican Majority Leader Peter Schmitt said that the new map would provide non- whites the chance to add another representative of their choosing, but New York State Sen. and Democratic Minority Leader John Sampson believes that the Republicans’ claims of more minority representation are bogus.
“This redistricting plan is a brazen power play that would violate the Voting Rights Act, dilute the civic power of com- munities and disenfranchise minorities,” said Sampson. “With some of the same players pulling the strings behind the scenes, Nassau is a prelude to the heavily partisan plan Republicans will push on the state level if we don’t take politics out of this process.”
Sampson went on record earlier this year advocating an independent group to oversee redistricting of the state. Nassau County Democratic Minority Leader Diane Yatauro echoed Sampson’s sentiments. “Not only is any redistricting of our county legislative districts premature and illegal, the proposed Republican re- drawing shifts a half-million residents into new districts for a purely selfish, partisan advantage,” said Yatauro. “We must remember that the county legislature was created in 1994 by a federal court decision that stipulated that minority residents were entitled to at least two single-member districts where minority-preferred candidates would be elected.”
“The first map produced by that ruling created two legislative districts fully capable of electing minority community-preferred legislators,” Yatauro continued. “This power grab attempt by the Republicans waters down the impact of minority voters through a series of deliberate community boundary changes into newly reconfigured districts. It is a shameful violation of our laws, past precedents and the rights of minority voters. We are working in the legislature as well as in the courts to bring an immediate halt to this disgraceful action.”
Nassau County Legislators Judy Jacobs and Kevan Abrahams both focused on the legality of the GOP’s practices since conservatives have claimed to have found a loophole in one ordinance, which says redistricting must be done in the six months after the release of new census data. Both say the GOP is misinterpreting the law.
“As far as we’re concerned, they are forging precedent and legalities,” said Jacobs. “It did not have bipartisan input or community input into the plan. Seventy percent of my district is being taken out all together. It’s a political power grab. It’s not even been 10 years since the last redistricting. It’s only been eight years.”
“They have not made the communities who are impacted aware of this,” said Abrahams. “The loophole they found indicates that we need to de- scribe how redistricting will go forward, but the law only indicated ‘describe.’ In 2001, all we did was indicate how the cur- rent district would be impacted with the new Census numbers so that we can prepare through the redistricting com- mission on how we’d go about this. This took two years.”
According to Abrahams, the GOP said they’d also set up a commission, but only after re- districting had taken place. “It makes no sense,” he said.
“We have done some serious mobilizing, and we have been spreading the word through- out Nassau County and the state of New York,” said Co- ads. “And believe it or not, it’s known outside of New York what Nassau County is trying to do.”
“[This] is not what the NAACP is going to tolerate,” said Coads about the redistricting plans. They have a lot more work to do.