Asian American organizations and community members sued the New York City Districting Commission on Friday, claiming that new City Council district maps will deprive South Asian Americans in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park of political representation.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court, also names the New York City Board of Elections and the New York State Board of Elections as defendants. It asks the court to “hold off on petitioning” by candidates vying in the upcoming 2023 council races until new district lines can be drawn.
“Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park, Queens is home to a vibrant, growing Asian community, but districting plans have repeatedly carved up the area and diluted the community’s voting strength,” the lawsuit alleges. “The Asian community in Richmond Hill/South Ozone Park has consequently long been denied fair and effective representation in local, state and federal legislative bodies."
The community basically was split in half and that ensures that they would never have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
Jerry Vattamala, the director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which brought the lawsuit, said city and state officials failed to heed warnings brought by community members that a South Asian voting bloc was fragmented due to district lines that ran down Liberty Avenue, straight through the center of the Punjabi and Indo-Caribbean population.
“The community basically was split in half and that ensures that they would never have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” he told Gothamist.
According to Vattamala, the Districting Commission had not fulfilled the New York City Charter’s mandate to ensure “the fair and effective representation of racial and language minority groups.”
Neither the commission nor the city’s Board of Elections responded to questions about the lawsuit. AALDEF and other voting rights groups representing communities of color have pushed for a separate "unity map."
Felicia Singh, who was a Democratic candidate for the 32nd Council District in 2021, said that while she won a majority of Asian and Latino votes in the district, “that just could not match the amount of white voters outnumbering and washing out our communities of color.”
Although Singh won the Democratic nomination, she lost the general election to Republican Joann Ariola.
“Keeping these communities of interest whole is about investment in communities that have been continuously disinvested from and has never been able to elect representation,” said Singh in an email. “Voter intimidation happens in areas where there is long-term dominance of one racial group over another.”