Dear Hon. McCallister and Mr. Cervas,
I serve as a board member of the League of Women Voters of New York State, the League of Women Voters of Nassau County Inter-League Organization and the League of Women Voters of South Nassau. The League of Women Voter (“League”) is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The League is a strictly nonpartisan citizen activist organization that operates at the local, state, and national levels and has advocated for fair, nonpartisan redistricting over much of our 100+ year history.
I write to express our deep disappointment with the recently released May 16, 2022 draft New York State Congressional redistricting plan proposed by Special Master Cervas. We have concerns with the draft plan from both a process and substantive perspective and will briefly address both points in turn.
As an initial matter, we are deeply troubled by the lack of opportunity for robust public comment and participation in this phase of the redistricting process. Fair electoral districts are foundational to a meaningful franchise and the exercise of democracy. While the Independent Redistricting Commission and New York State Legislature failed in their efforts to create fair, nonpartisan electoral districts, the process employed by the Court has not provided a fair or adequate opportunity for public input and participation. We understand the difficult time constraints the Court faced, but two days for public input on the proposed redistricting plans that will affect NYS residents for the next 10 years is facially insufficient. There has been no opportunity for in-person public comment unless New Yorkers were able to travel to Bath, New York during a work week on a single day. The vast majority of New Yorkers live downstate and absolutely no accommodation was made to ensure that their voices could be heard directly by the Special Master and the Court.
While many advocacy organizations, such as the League, are familiar with the nuances of redistricting, most New Yorkers are not, and little thought was given to their ability to participate in the two day public comment process. Computer access was necessary to even view the proposed districts – access that many New Yorkers lack.
Additionally, while the New York Congressional districts during the last redistricting cycle in 2012 were drafted by a Magistrate Judge appointed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Eastern District of New York, entities intrinsically part of our New York and federal government and familiar with New York State, this Court instead appointed a postdoctoral fellow who may have limited ties and knowledge of New York State as a Special Master in this case.
On a substantive basis, I will limit my comments to proposed Congressional districts in Nassau County on Long Island. We take particular issue with the Special Master’s proposed Congressional Districts 2 and 3 on Long Island. These are districts that I am intimately familiar with as a long standing resident of Nassau County. Contrary to the Congressional redistricting plan drawn by the Magistrate Judge in the last redistricting cycle, the Special Master’s proposed redistricting plan for Nassau County reconfigures Congressional District 2 and Congressional District 3 from an east-west configuration to a north-south configuration. This proposed new configuration is inconsistent with communities of interest within our county and fails to recognize the shared interests of south shore Long Island communities and north shore Long Island communities. Both Congressional District 2 and 3 cut across Long Island geography to pick up population from vastly different communities with little in common other than they both happen to be on Long Island.
For example, Congressional District 2 takes in large portions of the north shore of Suffolk County combining communities that differ greatly in terms of language, racial and ethnic diversity as well as socio-economic diversity. Congressional District 2 should be configured to keep south shore Long Island communities together. These communities share similar economic and environmental concerns, common commuter train lines and Long Island’s renown Fire Island National Seashore.
Similarly, Congressional District 3 shares the same defects. Proposed Congressional District 3 is principally a north shore Long Island Congressional district that then dives south at the Suffolk/Nassau border to pick up population from the greater Massapequa community. The greater Massapequa community has over 75,000 residents and is well over 90% white and does not reflect the racial and ethnic demographics of Nassau County or the other communities with which it is joined in a Congressional District. The greater Massapequa area faces different economic and environmental challenges, utilizes different public transportation routes and is less diverse than the communities with which it is currently grouped by the Special Master. This area shares a common identity and issues with its neighboring south shore Long Island communities to both its east and west and could easily be included in Congressional District 2 or Congressional District 4. By including the eastern and southern finger of the proposed district in Congressional District 3, the proposed plan unnecessarily divides Fire Island National Seashore between three Congressional districts while it could easily be contained in two Congressional districts. As drawn, proposed Congressional District 3 also pushes further south into former Congressional District 4, removing and dividing Flushing communities in Queens. Proposed Congressional Districts 2 and 3 are also significantly less compact than the current configurations of those districts.
The residents of proposed Congressional District 2 and Congressional District 3 would be better represented if they were grouped with communities that shared similar interests. The best and most prudent configuration to meet this end is to exchange population from the greater Massapequa area south of the Long Island expressway to Congressional District 2 and move Huntington and Syosset from proposed Congressional District 2 to Congressional District 3
We hope that significant changes are made to the draft Congressional redistricting plan to better represent Nassau County’s residents and ensure that their voices are heard in our electoral process.
President, League of Women Voters of Nassau County