Sunday, March 3, 2024

Nassau County voting map lawsuit assessments New York voting rights act : NPR

Voters of shade in Nassau County, N.Y., a segregated suburb of New York Metropolis, are waging an unprecedented redistricting struggle below a state voting rights act, an rising software for shielding voting rights on the native stage.

Tracy J. Lee for NPR


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Tracy J. Lee for NPR


Voters of shade in Nassau County, N.Y., a segregated suburb of New York Metropolis, are waging an unprecedented redistricting struggle below a state voting rights act, an rising software for shielding voting rights on the native stage.

Tracy J. Lee for NPR

NASSAU COUNTY, N.Y. — In 2020, Maria Jordan-Awalom marched throughout an invisible line in one of the vital segregated areas of the nation.

After the police homicide of George Floyd, she and different demonstrators took to the streets for racial justice on this New York Metropolis suburb, simply east of the borough of Queens on Lengthy Island.

There have been no barricades blocking the street into the subsequent group over, however crossing from the predominantly Latino and Black village of Freeport into the predominantly white hamlet of Merrick, their peaceable protest was met with jeers.

“Return to the place you got here from!” Jordan-Awalom remembers listening to from onlookers on the sidewalk.

“It hits completely different if you’re an immigrant, clearly,” says the president of Freeport’s faculty board, who was born in El Salvador and first moved to this village on Lengthy Island’s south shore as an adolescent. “But in addition understanding that [they] have been simply indignant as a result of we have been Black and brown individuals, that is what harm extra. We’re neighbors.”

Nearly 4 years later, neighbors from the 2 communities are sharing the identical consultant in county authorities. That is as a result of, in early 2023, officers within the Republican-controlled Nassau County Legislature accepted a redistricting plan that drew giant swaths of Freeport and Merrick into the identical voting district.

The brand new political map has left Jordan-Awalom questioning: “What similarities do we’ve got with the group who’s telling us, ‘Return to the place you got here from’?”

The regulation agency that created the map with the county’s then-top Republican legislator pointed to the communities’ fireplace departments offering emergency backup companies for one another, plus a shared rail line and an “financial hall” operating alongside the identical street the place Jordan-Awalom marched.

Nonetheless, the map has perplexed many residents of shade. In a county scarred by a long time of housing discrimination, they are saying its voting districts break up up their communities and ignore lots of the strains that separate them from predominantly white areas.

A bunch of them, together with Jordan-Awalom, and a company referred to as New York Communities for Change are actually waging a authorized battle towards the map with stakes that transcend the shores of Lengthy Island.

On Wednesday, they filed a novel lawsuit, arguing that the Nassau County Legislature deliberately handed a redistricting plan that discriminates towards Black, Latino and Asian American voters so as to give Republican candidates a bonus in elections. Their case couldn’t solely end in a distinct set of voting districts for a county of near 1.4 million residents, but in addition create a pathway for voters of shade elsewhere to guide a brand new type of struggle towards racial discrimination in redistricting on the native stage.

Maria Jordan-Awalom, a resident of Freeport, N.Y., says she is preventing for a brand new redistricting plan for the Nassau County Legislature that retains her predominantly Latino and Black village united in a single voting district. “I really feel like if we’re not represented as entire, the consultant will go to that highly effective white voice earlier than they take heed to our issues,” Jordan-Awalom says.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


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Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


Maria Jordan-Awalom, a resident of Freeport, N.Y., says she is preventing for a brand new redistricting plan for the Nassau County Legislature that retains her predominantly Latino and Black village united in a single voting district. “I really feel like if we’re not represented as entire, the consultant will go to that highly effective white voice earlier than they take heed to our issues,” Jordan-Awalom says.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

In Nassau County, voters of shade and white voters are inclined to choose completely different candidates. And the variety of individuals figuring out as white and never Hispanic has dropped greater than 11% over the previous decade, as Black, Latino and Asian American residents now make up greater than a 3rd of eligible voters. However on the present map for the county legislature, these voters of shade make up nearly all of eligible voters in solely 4 out of 19 districts, or lower than 1 / 4. The map’s challengers argue there ought to be six such districts.

“The white voice at all times appears to overpower our voices. And I really feel like if we’re not represented as entire, the consultant will go to that highly effective white voice earlier than they take heed to our issues,” says Jordan-Awalom, who desires to maintain her village united in a single voting district. “We’ve had the identical struggle for therefore lengthy, so clearly we’re not being heard. And I feel it has to alter.”

That change, she hopes, will come by way of an unprecedented means of instantly difficult a neighborhood voting map below a state voting rights act — an rising software that advocates hope will help fortify the rights of voters of shade as opponents proceed to chip away at protections towards racial discrimination below the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Authorized consultants, nevertheless, warn that critics of state voting rights acts are keen to check the constitutionality of those state legal guidelines with the U.S. Supreme Courtroom’s conservative supermajority, and this New York case might spark an enchantment that will finally result in the undoing of those protections throughout the USA.

How New York’s state voting rights act led to a brand new type of redistricting lawsuit

Within the decade because the U.S. Supreme Courtroom struck down a key provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, a small however rising variety of states — together with Washington, Oregon, Virginia, New York and Connecticut — have adopted the lead of the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 by putting in further authorized protections towards racial discrimination in voting. New York’s John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act was signed into regulation in 2022.

The scope of every regulation is completely different, together with how they apply to particular elections. Whereas there have been many redistricting lawsuits below state voting rights acts over the previous twenty years, these circumstances have been challenges to elections by which a number of candidates are elected as at-large representatives of 1 voting district.

New York’s state voting rights act is amongst those who permit a map of a number of voting districts, every with a single consultant, to be challenged in courtroom for diluting the collective energy of voters of shade. And the lawsuit towards the Nassau County Legislature’s map is breaking new authorized floor in state courts, in line with Ruth Greenwood, an professional on state voting rights acts, who directs Harvard Regulation College’s Election Regulation Clinic.

“Quite a lot of legal professionals prefer to suppose that the U.S. Supreme Courtroom is as fancy because it will get and it is best to attempt to do the whole lot you possibly can there,” Greenwood says. “However the actuality is that if you happen to’re attempting to guard communities, it is advisable use the best possible instruments obtainable to them. And on this case, the U.S. Supreme Courtroom isn’t a buddy to the Voting Rights Act. And so it is sensible to undergo state voting rights acts.”

To argue {that a} voting map dilutes the collective energy of voters of shade below the federal Voting Rights Act, challengers have to point out in courtroom that, within the phrases of a landmark Supreme Courtroom ruling, “the minority group” could make up nearly all of and match inside a “majority-minority district” — a hurdle that may take a variety of time and redistricting consultants to beat. That is not the case with these state voting rights acts.

That distinction permits these state legal guidelines to handle racial discrimination in locations the place residential segregation will not be as excessive, says Perry Grossman, who helped develop New York’s state voting rights act and is now the lead lawyer for the Nassau County map’s challengers.

“It is taking much less taxpayer sources and fewer sources on the aspect of voters of shade to root out that discrimination,” says Grossman, who additionally directs the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Undertaking. “It additionally gives extra alternatives for jurisdictions to remediate their schemes voluntarily, which we need to see. We need to see jurisdictions take that chance to do it themselves quite than get sued for it.”

The challengers of Nassau County’s map tried to keep away from a lawsuit by sending a proper letter in December to county officers, as required by New York’s state voting rights act. The letter claimed the present redistricting plan isn’t in keeping with the state regulation as a result of its boundaries impaired the power of communities of shade to elect their candidates of selection and affect election outcomes.

However the county legislature has refused to make any modifications, protecting in place a map that was launched late within the redistricting course of by the highest Republican legislator on the time, Richard Nicolello, who rejected plans put forth by a bipartisan redistricting advisory fee.

The legislature handed that map in February 2023 on a party-line vote with 11 Republicans in favor and 7 Democrats towards it. The vote got here after contentious public hearings, the place Democratic county legislators had a tough time getting Nicolello and an lawyer from Troutman Pepper, the Atlanta-based regulation agency that put collectively Nicolello’s map, to elaborate on how they got here up with the districts.

No districts in Nassau County wanted to or may very well be “race-focused districts” so as to be in keeping with the federal Voting Rights Act, concluded Sean Trende, an elections analyst for RealClearPolitics who suggested Nicolello, in line with a memo launched by Troutman Pepper.

“We, subsequently, didn’t think about race any additional in redistricting as a result of that will have been unconstitutional,” lawyer Misha Tseytlin, a associate at Troutman Pepper who beforehand served as Wisconsin’s solicitor common, defined at one listening to.

Tseytlin later added that the agency thought you will need to learn New York’s John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act “per the U.S. Supreme Courtroom’s precedent towards racial gerrymandering.”

“Another conclusion that will learn the John Lewis regulation as a requirement for infusing race into each redistricting resolution, within the U.S. Supreme Courtroom’s interpretation of phrases, would render the John Lewis regulation unconstitutional, and we undoubtedly do not need to do this,” Tseytlin stated.

Tseytlin, Trende and the legislature’s Republican majority caucus, by way of a spokesperson, declined NPR’s interview requests. However in an e-mail assertion, Mary Studdert, the caucus’ spokesperson, stated: “The adopted maps included suggestions from the general public’s testimony from over a dozen public hearings, whereas assembly all authorized and constitutional requirements, uniting communities of curiosity and making certain equal illustration for the residents of Nassau County.”

“…they put that lid proper again on prime of us”

Lisa Ortiz, an Afro-Latina resident of southern Nassau County, nevertheless, is anxious that illustration isn’t equal now that her house within the predominantly Black hamlet of Lakeview has been drawn into the identical district because the predominantly white village of Malverne.

The change compelled Lakeview out of a district with neighboring communities of shade, and Ortiz, a registered Democrat who was beforehand represented by a Black Democrat, now has a county legislator who’s a white Republican.

“When you concentrate on Lakeview being grouped right into a district that basically has the facility to silence our vote, it discourages individuals. Why ought to I am going out and vote? My vote isn’t even going to depend. That defeats the aim of residing in a democracy,” says Ortiz, who is without doubt one of the redistricting plan’s challengers within the lawsuit.

Lisa Ortiz, a resident of Lakeview, N.Y., stands below the brand new avenue signal for Acorn Means within the predominantly white village of Malverne, the place many Black college students from Lakeview attend colleges. The road was beforehand named Lindner Place after a frontrunner of the Ku Klux Klan in New York.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


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Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


Lisa Ortiz, a resident of Lakeview, N.Y., stands below the brand new avenue signal for Acorn Means within the predominantly white village of Malverne, the place many Black college students from Lakeview attend colleges. The road was beforehand named Lindner Place after a frontrunner of the Ku Klux Klan in New York.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Troutman Pepper, the regulation agency that drew the county legislature’s map, justified the change by citing the “sturdy group of curiosity” created by the 2 communities sharing the identical faculty district.

However many Lakeview residents bear in mind the wrestle to get the district to fund faculty bussing for Black college students in Lakeview after the district was ordered to desegregate. And till final 12 months, the road in entrance of one of many district’s elementary colleges in Malverne was named after a chief of the Ku Klux Klan in New York, Paul Lindner, who was as soon as additionally the namesake of the college.

Ortiz was relieved to see Lindner Place change into Acorn Means on the unveiling of the brand new avenue signal final January, weeks earlier than the Nassau County Legislature handed the brand new voting map.

“We have been capable of accomplish one factor with the road renaming, however then they put that lid proper again on prime of us,” Ortiz says.

Why this redistricting struggle might find yourself earlier than the U.S. Supreme Courtroom

In the direction of the northwest nook of Nassau County, Jerry Vattamala, an Indian American resident of the village of New Hyde Park, sees an identical tactic enjoying out by way of the present redistricting plan. The county’s Asian American inhabitants has grown over the previous decade by round 60%, the best charge amongst all racial and ethnic teams.

The map’s strains reduce by way of a rising Asian American group in an space generally known as Larger New Hyde Park, the place thoroughfares are lined with gurdwaras, Hindu temples, bubble tea retailers and Asian-owned grocery shops, plus annual occasions for Diwali and Lunar New 12 months are organized by city authorities officers.

“Anybody that lives within the space simply by taking a look at it may well see, ‘Oh, look! They divided us into three completely different districts’ — proper within the coronary heart of the place the general public reside,” says Vattamala, who’s a member of New York Communities for Change, one of many map’s challengers.

Due to the place Asian American residents reside within the county, it might be troublesome to attract a viable voting district the place Asian People make up the bulk.

However Vattamala hopes to see a brand new map with what’s identified within the redistricting world as an “affect district,” the place there could be sufficient Asian American voters to have a big affect on who’s elected to the Nassau County Legislature, which has but to have an elected legislator of Asian descent. Beneath the present map, two Democratic candidates who might have been the county’s first Asian American legislators misplaced to Republicans final 12 months in races for seats in Larger New Hyde Park.

“We’re not asking for particular therapy or to have any sort of benefit,” says Vattamala, an lawyer who leads the Asian American Authorized Protection and Training Fund’s Democracy Program. “What we’re demanding is an equal alternative to elect a candidate of our selection, identical to different communities take pleasure in, primarily the white group in Nassau County.”

Jerry Vattamala attended a Lunar New 12 months occasion organized by officers from the city of North Hempstead, N.Y., in January. Vattamala says he hopes to see a brand new voting district with sufficient Asian American voters to have a big affect on who’s elected to the Nassau County Legislature, which has but to have an elected legislator of Asian descent.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


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Hansi Lo Wang/NPR


Jerry Vattamala attended a Lunar New 12 months occasion organized by officers from the city of North Hempstead, N.Y., in January. Vattamala says he hopes to see a brand new voting district with sufficient Asian American voters to have a big affect on who’s elected to the Nassau County Legislature, which has but to have an elected legislator of Asian descent.

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Nonetheless, Greenwood of Harvard’s Election Regulation Clinic warns that critics of state voting rights could also be getting ready to problem that place in courtroom by arguing that what legal guidelines akin to New York’s require in redistricting quantities to racial gerrymandering.

“I feel some individuals see that if you’re attempting to enfranchise individuals of shade, they see that as creating possibly a quota or some set-aside so that individuals of shade have entry to the political system,” Greenwood says.

Greenwood has helped file friend-of-the-court briefs arguing towards a Republican precinct committee officer in Washington’s Franklin County who has requested the U.S. Supreme Courtroom to take up a case concerning the constitutionality of Washington’s state voting rights act.

The case towards the Nassau County Legislature’s map could also be headed for the excessive courtroom, too.

“If this results in the New York voting rights act getting struck down as unconstitutional, that will not solely have an effect on individuals in Nassau County,” Greenwood says. “It will have an effect on everyone in New York and doubtlessly everyone in the entire states which have state voting rights acts.”

It is a potential situation that Tseytlin, the Troutman Pepper lawyer, hinted at a number of occasions final 12 months throughout a public listening to concerning the county’s map.

“This was simply enacted,” Tseytlin stated concerning the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York. “That is the primary cycle. Maybe, there will likely be a check case right here arising.”

Edited by Benjamin Swasey

Visuals edited by Grace Widyatmadja

Analysis by Jane Gilvin, Nicolette Khan and Barclay Walsh

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