Coalitions, voter turnout key in changing policy

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School

Long Beach residents voting at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach. (Nov. 5, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Numbers mean something.

But the right numbers, when it comes to voter turnout, could mean so much more.

A report in Sunday's Newsday detailed an increase in the number of minority candidates, and noted that a dozen residents with roots in El Salvador, Haiti and South Asia threw their hats in the ring on Election Day.


MAP: How Nassau voted by neighborhood


That's to be expected. As the region's nonwhite population increases, more candidates can -- and should -- be expected to follow.

But what about minority and immigrant voters -- what's happening with participation on that score?

In Nassau County, it might appear as though Democrat Thomas Suozzi's big loss in the race for county executive meant that fewer black, Hispanic and immigrant voters went to the polls.

But a closer look in key districts tells a different story.

Overall, voter turnout was slightly larger than it was when Suozzi lost to Republican County Executive Edward Mangano four years ago, because more Republicans went to the polls.

Turnout in mostly minority and immigrant communities was nowhere near presidential-year election levels on Long Island. Nonetheless, it was higher in some key local races than it was in 2009, when there was a county executive race in Nassau and both county legislatures were up.

In the 9th Legislative District in Suffolk, where Democratic newcomer Monica Martinez ousted Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood), the number of votes cast went up 47 percent, according to an analysis of unofficial results by the nonpartisan Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which encourages greater civic participation.

In Nassau, the 1st Legislative District in Hempstead, which re-elected Democrat Kevan Abrahams to the county Legislature, saw a 44 percent increase in votes cast, according to the Civic Engagement Table analysis.

What's happening?

The Civic Engagement Table and more than 20 other organizations, from La Fuente to the League of Women Voters, are working to register new voters and bring infrequent voters back to the polls.

In Islip, the effort targeted about 10,000 voters; in Hempstead, a get-out-the-vote operation went after 5,000 more.

Over the last two years, organized efforts to get out the vote resulted in more than 10,000 new voter registrations on Long Island.

Is it making a difference?

A close look at some other numbers says yes. Take state Assemb. Edward Hennessey's surprise win in District 3 in Suffolk last year. The East Moriches Democrat won by 226 votes -- in a district where efforts to increase voter participation turned out 2,971 targeted voters.

"That race was interesting because even the county Democratic leader was quoted as saying he didn't know what happened," said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the LI Civic Engagement Table. "But we knew what happened. It was targeting a community of color, registering voters and getting commitments from what we call infrequent voters to get to the polls."

Come next year, voter participation efforts targeting minority and immigrant Long Islanders could be key, too: They account for more than a third of potential voters in Nassau districts represented by incumbent GOP state Sens. Kemp Hannon and Jack Martins.

But numbers alone mean nothing. For minority and immigrant communities to win power and change policy, two key things have to happen.

All of Long Island's communities, which have more in common than some might believe, will have to form coalitions to work successfully together.

But the most essential tool will be high, and consistent, voter turnout.