A group of Islip residents are suing the Town of Islip in an attempt to change the local voting system from an “at-large” system that operates townwide, to one based on districts that the plaintiffs believe would pave the way for a more level playing field for Latinx residents and minorities in general.
“Every day I see the ways Latino neighborhoods are underserved and underrepresented,” plaintiff Magali Roman, a 60-year-old nonprofit program coordinator, told Newsday. “The town handles complaints from our neighborhoods differently. These problems start out small and when the town neglects them, they turn into bigger problems.”
The residents believe that there has been “inequitable treatment of Islip’s minority Latino community,” and point to their parts of town that they feel the local government has neglected. For the plaintiffs, these conditions include streets in disrepair, construction dumping in parks, broken traffic lights, and underfunded schools.
In the current at-large system, town board member candidates are voted on by the entire town. As the federal lawsuit — filed in June — argues, this gives more influence to white residents. In a district system, residents would vote for candidates in their own districts to secure a seat on the town board. And, as the plaintiffs argue, that could lead to a majority of people of color in at least one district.
As the New York Times reported, the basis of the lawsuit leverages the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting. The law was used to dismantle the at-large system of Hempstead in 2000, the culmination of a 12-year legal fight that worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that their at-large system discriminated against black residents.
Brookhaven switched to the district system in 2002 by a referendum, and North Hempstead followed in 2003 by the same method.
The Town of Islip has until October 10 to respond to the lawsuit.