The Fight For True Representation on Long Island

Latino residents on Long Island are filing a lawsuit against the Town of Islip, New York to achieve better representation in local decision making.

In the region, local governments make most decisions about what gets built where and how public money is spent.  Much of the decisions regarding businesses, school funding, street cleaning and upkeep, and infrastructure improvements go through or championed by municipal councils or town boards.

This is true in the town of Islip on Long Island, where Latino residents represent nearly 30% of the town’s population.

Latino voters and community members will ask the court to create a new districting plan for the town of Islip that complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The goal of the lawsuit would get to a more representative voting system like what was won in Hempstead and adopted in the town of Brookhaven.

Organizers from New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and Make the Road New York (MTR) blame the at-large voting structure of in the town. In the current structure, residents vote for town-wide officials rather than district level representatives, preventing voters of color from electing their candidates of choice where they are not the majority.

In Islip, no Latino candidates have ever won a seat on the Town Board nor have ever been elected to any office within the Town of Islip. The minority communities claim this had resulted in their needs being neglected by town officials.  Make the Road and Long Island Communities for Change claim that they have “failed to provide adequate street cleaning and garbage removal to these communities; has ignored the community’s requests to repair potholes and broken street lights; and failed to respond as toxic waste was dumped in neighborhood parks located in these communities.”

RPA stands by the belief that healthy and thriving communities stem directly from community-based decision-making, which is why we suggested a variety of means for better engagement and representation in the Fourth Regional Plan. The Plan acknowledges that local institutions often make decisions that reflect the values and needs of older, wealthier, and mostly white residents rather than the population at large. Furthermore, the Fourth Plan urges communities to strive for greater participation in local government, to practice extensive public engagement and participatory budgeting. Moreover, the Fourth Plan recommends expanding participation granting voting rights for long-term residents. Alongside the fight for fair voting structures, these initiatives will lead to local decisions that better reflect community needs and aspirations.

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