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Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams Proposes Legislation That Would Change How Nassau Elects its County Legislators

Photo courtesy to the Office of Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams

Nassau County Legislature Minority Leader Kevan M. Abrahams (D – Freeport) and his Minority Caucus colleagues are proposing major reforms that would overhaul and democratize the way Nassau residents elect their Legislators.

During a press conference at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building on Wednesday, August 12, Minority Leader Abrahams urged Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello to
join him in supporting the creation of an Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission would be tasked with drawing new Legislative district lines in a manner that promotes equal representation and protects the sanctity of residents’ voting rights, irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.

“The creation of an independent redistricting commission will liberate Nassau County voters from decades of election districts which exist primarily to advance the political interests of entrenched machine politicians over the interests of the people,” Minority Leader Abrahams said. “Because voters will have real choices in competitive elections, it will no longer be safe for elected officials to ignore the interests of large segments of Nassau County’s electorate. To oppose this bill is to sacrifice the common good of the people in Nassau in favor of the selfish interests of the few.”

Under Minority Leader Abrahams’ proposal, the nine-member commission will be tasked with issuing a redistricting plan in which the 19 districts are geographically compact and contiguous and designed to respect communities of interest while preserving boundaries of cities, towns and incorporated villages. The first Legislature elections that would utilize these new maps, which will be drawn based on data compiled during the 2020 Census, would occur in 2023. The process would repeat every 10 years thereafter.

Independent redistricting is an essential component of efforts to address extensive gerrymandering that was engineered by political parties to pack Democratic and Republican voters respectively into districts for the purpose of shielding incumbents from meaningfully competitive election challenges. In many cases, majority-minority communities within the County were most impacted by this hyper-partisan redistricting process.

A closer look at results dating back to the first Legislature election in 1995 reveals that the current map-drawing process has yielded a series of elections in which incumbents have prevailed in approximately 95 percent of contested races.

“Independent redistricting commissions help develop plans outside the Legislature and can help prevent the kind of gerrymandering that the public rejects. The criteria in this legislation will strengthen Nassau’s ability to enact legislative districts that better reflect communities. The bitter partisan processes that we’ve seen in the past should not be allowed to continue,” said nationally-
recognized redistricting expert Jeffrey M. Wice, a New York Law School Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow.

Minority Leader Abrahams’ proposal would further secure the integrity and independence of the
redistricting process by:

• Requiring the release of a draft map to be released no later than early September 2022 and certification of a final map by the Clerk of the Legislature no later than one year prior to Election Day 2023;
• Mandating, within that approximately two-month period, the Commission to hold a public hearing, solicit written comments for 30 days, and consider recommendations from the Legislature;
• Creating the mechanism for appointing a Special Master to complete redistricting if the Commission fails to meet its deadlines or its plan is thrown out in court; and
• Insulating the Commission from partisan gutting by requiring a mandatory public referendum to approve any proposed changes to how the Commission operates.

“As Nassau County and the nation continue to engage with the most urgent civil rights debate of our generation, we are reminded that the most fundamental of all civil rights is the sanctity of the right to vote,” Minority Leader Abrahams said. “However, the right to vote means very little if the outcome of elections is rigged by partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts. This is a bill that will restore full voting rights in Nassau and ensure that all communities will have a meaningful voice in elections. This means that their voices will also be heard by government officials who make the crucial decisions that affect their lives.”

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