Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter testified in federal court Tuesday to defend the town’s current voting system in a lawsuit over whether it denies Latinos equal representation in Town Hall.
Carpenter, whose position is up for election in November, took the witness stand during the second week of hearings over a request to require this year’s town elections to be held by councilmanic districts.
Carpenter spoke against creating districts, echoing the same concerns raised by opponents ahead of a 2006 referendum, in which residents voted down a ward system. Carpenter said districts would limit the number of representatives that residents could approach with concerns and cause elected officials to make decisions to benefit their districts instead of the town as a whole.
“We’re one town,” Carpenter said. “To carve it up into four separate districts would be counterproductive to what we stand for as a town and county.”
A group of Brentwood residents and advocacy groups are seeking a preliminary injunction to create voting districts, with at least one ward with a Latino majority, for elections before their lawsuit goes to trial.
They filed a lawsuit against the town, town board and Suffolk Board of Elections in June, seeking to overhaul the at-large voting system, in which candidates are elected by a townwide majority.
Plaintiffs have argued that the voting system prevents Latinos from winning town office and electing candidates of their choice, pointing to the fact that no Latinos have ever held elected town office even though they are a third of the town’s population. They say the white majority population dilutes Latino votes and that election results lead to substandard town services in largely Latino areas.
Defense attorneys have said that candidates have won based on the Republican-majority partisan makeup of the town and that Latinos could sweep future at-large elections based on population projections.
Town officials have set aside at least $2 million for legal services in the case, according to public documents from October that were recently obtained by the plaintiffs under a Freedom of Information Law request.
In about an hour of testimony Tuesday, Carpenter said she did not see Latinos as underrepresented in the town during her four-year tenure and highlighted her previous work with nonprofit agencies that serve the Brentwood area.
Addressing plaintiffs' concerns about a lack of Spanish translation services available at town board meetings, Carpenter said a bilingual town employee is always present and that officials are planning to staff meetings with bilingual park rangers.
Carpenter also touted that she fought to keep Brentwood in her legislative district as a county legislator during a redistricting process.
“They looked at me like I had two heads,” Carpenter said of officials in charge of the redistricting. “As a Republican, I didn’t get a lot of votes from that area.”
Her testimony was expected to resume Thursday morning.