A good government group is urging Nassau County lawmakers to reform the way it redraws legislative district lines each decade after partisan gridlock revealed flaws in the system last year.
Proposed recommendations include creating an independent “citizen commission” to draw up a fair map, barring political operatives from the commission and clarifying contradictions in the county charter, according to a report issued by the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition, a collaboration of nonprofit advocacy groups.
“Our redistricting process, regardless of who’s in control, is controlled by partisan interests,” Steve McFarland, a Nassau organizer with Make the Road New York, told the legislature at its meeting Monday. “I think there’s bipartisan agreement in this room that the system is broken.”
The report suggests that the county model its reforms after Ulster County in upstate New York, but avoid overly strict rules like in neighboring Suffolk, where the plan fell apart and the Democratic majority redrew the map.
A judge had initially rejected an attempt by Nassau’s legislative Republican majority to rush a redrawn map through before the 2012 elections. A redistricting commission split between five Democrats and five Republicans later proposed separate maps to the legislature. The GOP majority approved their map last March.
The coalition, concerned that both maps were gerrymandered to benefit the party that drew them, issued its own map that was ignored. McFarland said the dysfunctional process fostered a sense that Nassau lawmakers care more about keeping their jobs than doing right by voters.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said her counsel has met with the group to discuss their proposal. “The dialogue will continue and we’ll take a look at the report,” she said.
Democratic legislators expressed support for the move and credited the group for pushing for such complex reforms well in advance of the next reapportionment rather than waiting until the 2020 Census, when population shifts will restart the process.
Eighty one percent of survey respondents support the plan for a nonpartisan, citizen-led redistricting process, according to The Long Island Civic Engagement Table, one of the groups that formed the coalition that issued the report.