Altschuler: In Nassau race, minority voters can make the difference
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Despite a recent poll showing an advantage for Edward Mangano in the Nassau County Executive race, some analysts are expecting a tighter contest on Nov. 5. After all, the last time Republican Mangano and Democrat Thomas Suozzi faced off, the difference was 386 votes.
The focus now has predictably turned to the typical analysis: which candidate would more effectively mobilize his base, and who would convince voters he is the most fiscally responsible. This approach, however, misses a fundamental transformation in Nassau County that could impact the election. Given Nassau County's recent demographic changes, the decisive factor could be turnout in communities of color.
Long gone are the days when Nassau County was mostly white and voters were overwhelmingly conservative. In recent decades, the county's demographic shift has changed its political composition.
People of color comprise more than 30 percent of the county's voting-age population, up from just over 20 percent in 2000, according to Census data analyzed by the Nassau County United Redistricting Coalition. And my analysis of Voter Activation Network data revealed that voters of color are now 25 percent of the county's registered voters.
Both numbers are growing. In fact, the increase of communities of color is the reason for Long Island's population growth. If one disregards the Latino, African-American, and Asian-American population growth since 2000, the county's overall population would be lower overall.
While the non-Hispanic white population declined by 9 percent since 2000, the black population increased 17 percent, the Latino population increased 49 percent, and the Asian-American population increased 68 percent, according to Census data. Without this growth, the economy would have suffered with lower consumer demand, and government deficits would have been greater because of a diminished tax base.
With Election Day less than a week away, the most pressing question about this demographic transformation is: Will these communities turn out at the polls?
In previous elections, racial and ethnic minorities in Nassau County have not voted in proportion to their registration levels, which are already lower than those of white voters. For instance, among "frequent" voters, those who have cast ballots in three of the past four federal elections, the share of minority voters dips below 20 percent, according to an analysis of voter records.
This explains, in part, why some politicians largely have ignored these communities' needs, as illustrated by this year's redistricting debacle in Nassau, which effectively reduced representation in communities like Elmont in the county legislature.
But candidates ignore these communities at their own peril. Our coalition of community organizations is confident that the share of Latino, African-American, and Asian voters will grow in this year's elections. Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change plan to knock multiple times on the doors of 10,000 Nassau voters in the diverse communities of Hempstead and Elmont by Election Day.
Non-partisan efforts like these, which do not support candidates or parties, are critical because they engage voters on the issues they care most about, such as jobs, affordable housing, vital county services for the young and the vulnerable, and language access. As we saw Thursday, when more than 300 people joined us for a candidate forum in Hempstead, issues like these matter to the voters we are engaging in communities of color regardless of who is running for office. And the enthusiasm our partners are generating during the election can result in grassroots campaigns after the election -- creating a circle of civic participation.
With about 230,000 registered voters of color in Nassau County this year by our count, communities like Hempstead, Elmont, Roosevelt, and Uniondale can no longer be ignored by countywide candidates.
After all, when the dust settles after Nov. 5, turnout in these communities may prove to be the X-factor in determining who holds the reins of power in Nassau County.
Daniel Altschuler is the coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a nonpartisan coalition to foster civic participation led by Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, the Central American Refugee Center and the Long Island Immigrant Alliance.