Lawsuit alleges voting rights abuses in Islip Town
A group of Islip Town residents from Brentwood have filed a federal lawsuit against the town alleging that the system for electing board members prevents minorities from holding elected office.
The plaintiffs allege that Islip violated their voting rights by allowing town council candidates to run on a townwide, or "at large," basis rather than as representatives of individual council districts.
“Islip's predominately white majority tends to vote all the same, and thus consistently forms a voting bloc that can defeat any candidate that Latinos and other minorities communities prefer,” says Walter Barriento, of Make the Road New York.
According to the plaintiffs, not one of the town’s board members has resided in Brentwood since 1990. In fact, every town council member currently lives south of Sunrise Highway.
Ana Flores, of Brentwood, says Islip officials have failed her community, especially during the Roberto Clemente Park illegal dumping scandal.
“It would never be accepted by the rich, white communities that the town rushed to help during Sandy,” says Flores.
The Republican-controlled Islip is hardly the only town on Long Island that elects its council members on a townwide basis. The neighboring town of Babylon, which is historically controlled by Democrats, has the same system as Islip.
Attorney Fred Brewington says there is a legal precedent in this case. Brewington represented Dorothy Goosby 30 years ago in a landmark lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead. Goosby ultimately won, and the town was forced to establish council districts. Brewington believes the same will happen in Islip.
“This community has grown to a place over the past 30 years where they cannot be ignored,” says Brewington.
Some of the plaintiffs spoke directly to the Town Board at a public meeting Tuesday. Supervisor Angie Carpenter thanked them for their comments, but did not respond in any other way.
A spokesperson for the town declined to comment on the lawsuit.