TOWN OF ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Imagine living in a town with tens of thousands of people, but not having any representation in local government. It’s what many residents in Islip feel, because its voting system allows the white majority to elect candidates over the minority Latino community.
Ana Flores and her family traveled to the U.S. from El Salvador and became citizens a decade ago. They settled in Brentwood – not far from Roberto Clemente Park, which closed for three years when 40,000 tons of debris containing asbestos and pesticides were illegally dumped.
While in high school and then at Stony Brook University, Flores watched as her community suffered. Their complaints, she felt, were falling on deaf ears.
“Completely reflective of the fact that there is no one in town hall that can represent us clearly,” she told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.
She is one of several now suing her town for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act and perpetuating neglect in Latino communities.
The 25 percent minority population in Islip is represented by an all-white town board and supervisor, McLogan reported.
“They will continue to be reelected no matter what the Latino voters say when they come out to the polls,” said Walter Barrientos, of Make the Road New York.
Islip has what are known as “at-large” elections, where candidates seek votes town-wide, instead of in specific districts.
The Suffolk County town sits between the Long Island Expressway and Great South Bay with four villages and 20 hamlets. Among them are Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bay Shore – predominantly Latino and underrepresented, residents say.
“This federal lawsuit sets out the violations one after another that the town of Islip has engaged in quelling and suppressing the voices of Latino voters,” the plaintiff’s attorney Frederick Brewington said.
None of Islip’s elected officials live in Brentwood – another reason the residents claim MS-13 gang violence has spiraled out of control there.
The lawsuit also claims the current voting system allowed for schools to be underfunded, five brownfield sites, streets to be in disrepair and unresponsive officials.
The accusations come as voting rights have reemerged as a powerful issue across New York and throughout the country.
“I hope that my community will take its voice and convert it to a vote,” said Flores.
Town officials said they will not respond until reviewing the lawsuit.
According to the Board of Elections, the only Long Island towns with council districts are Hempstead, North Hempstead and Brookhaven.