Four plaintiffs and two community groups claimed it's impossible for a Latino citizen to get elected to Islip's Town Board under the municipality's current voting system, at a trial that began Wednesday.
"The Latino community in Islip is vibrant and diverse," the plaintiffs' attorney, Frederick Brewington, told U.S. District Judge Gary Brown during opening arguments. Latinos make up 31 percent of Islip's 330,000 residents.
Despite different national origins, Brewington called them a "cohesive, close-knit community" concentrated in the northwest region of town—mainly Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bayshore. But he said efforts to get a candidate of their own elected are thwarted by Islip's at-large voting system, in which voters throughout the town choose the supervisor and board members.
"All town board members are white and have been since at least 2005," he explained, because they're voted into office by the majority white voters in Islip. "This is a case, judge, about race."
Brewington said this lack of representation results in Latinos having lower quality schools, roads, parks, and health outcomes.
"Right now, the vote of Latinos in Islip means nothing,” Brewington said.
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The plaintiffs want the judge to create four geographic districts for each of the town board members, so Latinos can finally elect a candidate of their choice.
But an attorney for the town, Lou Fisher, said Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act "does not guarantee minority voters electoral success, it guarantees them a level playing field."
He argued that Latinos aren't getting elected because they consistently vote for Democrats in a town where most residents vote Republican.
He also said there's no proof of racism at play in the differences between Latino and white neighborhoods, and that the town has spent significant sums in Latino areas.
But Brewington called partisanship "the shiny veneer" the defendants will use to disguise a racist voting system. He said the local Republican party declined to back a Latino candidate.
"This case is about disparate conditions and discriminatory treatment endured by one third of the town," he said.
The first witness to testify was Andrew Beveridge, a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Queens College who used census data to draw different voting maps proving how Latinos form a cohesive community that could form their own district.
This is the second major voting rights lawsuit in Long Island since the 1990s, when Brewington won a similar case proving the Town of Hempstead violated the rights of Black residents with a similar at-large voting system. The town was forced to create geographic voting districts and the plaintiff in the case, Dorothy Goosby, was elected.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.