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A Long Island Legislature is Robbing New Yorkers of Color of their Voting Rights

Nassau County Republicans created a redistricting map designed to silence certain voters.

A person wearing ear pods in a voting booth
Photo by Edmond Dantès
By: Terry Ding Staff Attorney, Legal & Kaye Dyja Communications Strategist, Communications

Across the nation, efforts to gut voting rights — especially for communities of color — are surging.

In 2023, legislators in 47 states introduced over 350 anti-voter bills attacking access to the ballot box. Between strict voter ID laws, rollbacks on early voting, and disenfranchising people with prior felony convictions, restrictive measures have created significant barriers for people who want to register to vote, vote by mail, or even just get to the polls.

This isn’t just a red state problem. Places with robust voter protections aren’t immune from voter suppression. Just look at Nassau County, Long Island where legislators are doing everything in their power to chisel away at the political power and voting protections of communities of color.

In Nassau, communities of color have grown significantly over the past few decades, while the county’s white population has decreased. Between 2010 and 2020, the Asian population grew by over 60 percent, the Latinx population by 34 percent, and the Black population by nine percent. More than one-third of the county’s eligible voters are residents of color.

Nassau County Republicans — who’ve dominated the county legislature for the past decade due to extreme partisan gerrymandering — have responded to these demographic shifts by attacking the electoral influence of voters of color.

Last August – in a rushed process where legislators fought transparency at every turn – the County Legislature adopted a redistricting map that creates only four legislative districts out of 19 where Black, Latinx, and Asian residents constitute a majority of eligible voters. This map makes it virtually impossible for residents of color to have a meaningful impact on election outcomes and denies them fair representation in their local government.

The residents of the predominantly Black hamlet of Lakeview, for instance, are now submerged in a district with the much larger, majority-white villages of Malverne and Lynbrook. Throughout the redistricting process, Lakeview residents testified that voters in Malverne and Lynrook would drown out their votes. They pleaded with the County Legislature to put them back into a district with other majority-Black communities like Hempstead and Uniondale.

Lisa Ortiz, one of our plaintiffs in the case, said that the map was “silencing” Lakeview voters by “throw[ing] us into a district that we have zero commonalities with.” She noted that recently, Lakeview residents had to fight “long and hard” to change the name of a Malverne street named after a Ku Klux Klan leader, only recently finding success.

This isn’t just a red state problem. Places with robust voter protections aren’t immune from voter suppression.

Another Lakeview resident, who had worked at a post office in Lynbrook, testified that she “faced so much racism” there, including “[b]eing called the N-word” and being followed by police officers as she delivered mail. Despite this, legislators falsely claimed that they couldn’t place Lakeview into a majority-minority district.

The Nassau County Legislature is flagrantly abusing their power, upholding a racially discriminatory electoral system, and egregiously violating voter protections enshrined in New York state law. That’s why we’re taking them to court.

In our lawsuit filed in February, we argue that this redistricting map dilutes the voting strength of voters of color in violation of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York — landmark voting rights legislation that the New York Civil Liberties Union was instrumental in passing. We also contend that the maps represent a partisan gerrymander favoring the Republican Party, in violation of the Municipal Home Rule Law.

We are asking the court to throw out the current map and replace it with a new one that includes at least six districts where Black, Latinx, and Asian residents constitute a majority of the citizen voting-age population. We also ask the court to create a district that does not dilute the vote of the Asian community in New Hyde Park.

The NYCLU’s efforts to lead the passage of the New York Voting Rights Act in 2022 resulted in a victory for democracy in our state, and it created a blueprint for state-level voting rights nationwide. It’s a critical tool in our lawsuit.

Until only a couple years ago, our state was held back by some of the most restrictive, discriminatory voting laws in the nation. Those laws allowed barriers to registration and voting, racial gerrymandering, and other forms of vote dilution to fester.

But now, taking legal action against voter suppression and racial vote dilution is easier and much more effective.

As we inch closer to November, efforts to diminish the electoral power and voting strength of people of color are only escalating. Thankfully here in New York, after years of tireless advocacy, we can use every protection secured under our state’s voting rights act to fight discrimination — and ensure fair, equitable representation for all voters.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union