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Hot-button issues on Long Island

Lee Zeldin, Republican incumbent candidate for US Congress

Lee Zeldin, Republican incumbent candidate for US Congress NY 1st District, poses for a portrait a law office located at 225 West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. -- slVOTE -- Credit: James Escher

Daily Point

Zeldin raises the alarm

Rep. Lee Zeldin had a Fox News appearance and viral tweets about a hot-button GOP issue on Thursday: he was sounding the alarm about immigrants here illegally who voted in Suffolk County. 

“Several illegal immigrants were removed from the voting rolls in Suffolk who actually voted,” he tweeted. “We only found out about them, [because] they requested removal from the voting rolls as part of their US citizenship application.”

What Zeldin and Fox didn’t say was how many people were removed and when. 

Commissioner Nick LaLota says he provided records to Zeldin from a 2015-2016 project compiling documentation of noncitizens asking for their Suffolk voter registrations to be deleted. He did not immediately provide more recent records. 

The full documentation, reviewed by the Point, indicates that 16 apparent noncitizens registered: 9 voted and 7 did not. There are over a million registered voters in Suffolk County, according to 2019 state data. 

None of this was recent. The latest that any of those individuals had their registration deleted was 2014. The earliest was 2009. 

The reason that Zeldin was raising the alarm was the state's newly-passed “Green Light” state legislation allowing immigrants here illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, plus the prospect of automatic voter enrollment at places like the DMV. 

Opponents of the law, like Zeldin, are concerned this will lead to more fraud either willful or accidental. The citizenship affidavit that's part of the voter registration application is on the “honor code,” says state BOE spokesman John Conklin, partially because federal law allows various forms of ID for voter registration that may not require citizenship. 

LaLota also has concerns. He says that “logically,” the number of cases of this type of fraud is larger than these 16 cases. “This fraud has the very real chance to grow and ultimately become statistically relevant as a result” of the driver's license law, he writes in an email. 

Activists note that the DMV has systems in place for non-citizen, legal residents such as green card holders to get licenses and not be automatically enrolled.

Lessons from the 16 cases at hand are unclear. Only two used DMV numbers alone as ID to register. Six used social security numbers. (The other records didn’t indicate the manner of identification). 

The Fox segment ignores the fact that the reason these Suffolk individuals were getting in touch with the BOE was because they were applying for citizenship en route to legally gaining the right to vote. It took some creative editing. 

The segment quotes from one man’s correspondence with the BOE included in the Suffolk documentation: “My Union Rep at my old job made me sign the voters card even when I told him I don’t want to. He just said sign it and let’s see what happens.” 

Fox skips the sentence before that, where the man, who never actually voted, writes that he’s sending this registration deletion request to the BOE as part of his naturalization, “one of the steps I need to get done before I can move on with the process.”

Immigrant voter fraud has typically been a GOP and right-leaning media issue. But in these 16 cases, seven of the individuals did not register as Democrats or Working Families members, choosing no party, the Independence Party, or in one case, Right to Life Party.

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Curran’s crusade

County Executive Laura Curran has fired off the latest rounds in Nassau County’s battle of dueling assertions over assessment, and this time she’s making it about the real estate market and preserving the property values of residents.

First, a recap. In June, Curran sent a mailer to all county residents urging them to call county legislators and demand they pass a plan that would phase in over five years the tax increases and decreases caused by returning property assessments to accurate values. 

That taxpayer-funded letter resulted in a taxpayer-funded response mailer from two Republican legislators facing tough reelection battles, Steven Rhoads and William Gaylor, accusing Curran of failing to be transparent, creating a roll riddled with inaccuracies and not living up to her promise to post updated tax-impact notices.

So now Curran has responded with a letter delivered to Gaylor, Rhoads and the presiding officer and minority leader, rebutting each major contention. Most of this is ground both sides have attacked and defended before, but Curran’s response does have one new contention: the uncertainty around future tax bills caused by a failure of the legislature to pass the phase-in now could make prospective purchasers of Nassau homes get cold feet and “do significant harm to the Nassau County residential real estate market,” Curran argues. She added, “Don’t send potential homebuyers to Westchester and Suffolk.”

Curran also added a new tactic to her crusade: photographic evidence. To accusations that she and the Department of Assessment have not been responsive to residents’ questions and concerns, Curran responded with photos of herself appearing at meetings alongside each legislator, in their districts, to explain the process.

- Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Torn down

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Final Point

Grade crossings that don't pass the grade

As the Long Island Rail Road methodically replaces some grade crossings in Nassau County as part of its third-track project, it’s worth remembering that grade crossing elimination has been a goal for decades.

On July 31, 1941, Newsday’s editorial board recounted two near-tragic incidents at Rockville Centre crossings. One involved an Ellsworth Combes Co. bus, one of the private lines operating in Nassau County in those days. The bus was given clearance, after a freight train passed, by the watchman who manually raised the gates at the Village Avenue crossing. But he didn’t see a passenger train hurtling toward the crossing from the other direction. The bus avoided being crushed only because its driver gunned the engine and cleared the tracks in the proverbial nick of time.

In the other incident, at the Long Beach Road crossing, a car with a husband and wife inside was trapped on the tracks when the gates on either side were lowered. The husband, according to the board’s account, “grabbed his wife and pulled her to safety. A few moments later and a westbound Long Island train struck the stalled car, demolishing it.”

While noting additional safeguards that could be taken, the board wrote, “As this newspaper has stated repeatedly, there is no true remedy for grade crossing accidents except the elimination of those grade crossings.”

And it concluded with a P.S. to readers:

“Railroad gates should not be synonymous with the pearly gates.”

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie


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